Providing support on the frontlines

  • Published
  • By Maj. George Matusak
  • 718th Civil Engineer Squadron Engineer Flight chief
If you were asked which profession has done the most to increase the average life span of people, the first logical response might be doctors. After all, their medicines cure the sick and their surgeries help the afflicted. But if you said that, you'd be wrong. It turns out that engineers have had the greatest impact on living longer than any other profession in the history of mankind. 

Throughout history it was engineers who built shelters to protect us from the environment, constructed the irrigation to water crops, and developed sanitation systems to keep diseases at bay. If you look at one of the Air Force's current missions in Iraq, you'd see we're doing the same thing there - extending the lifespan of our people. 

I've just returned from a six-month deployment to Iraq on an "in-lieu-of" tasking for the Army. Basically, this is a tasking where the Army has requested Air Force members to accomplish a mission they don't have the manning or skill sets to accomplish. 

Our mission over there was to provide troop construction capabilities in support of Army engineer forces and to enhance combat capability of coalition forces throughout Iraq. That covered a very broad area and the connection between that and helping people live longer might not seem obvious at first. But every project that we undertook could be connected back to that very idea. Whether fixing safety deficiencies by installing lightning protection at an ammo storage point or bringing a facility up to electrical code; or increasing quality of life by giving Soldiers a private room or hot water and a decent latrine, we were making life better, safer, and even longer for our troops stationed in Iraq. 

While repairing safety hazards obviously helps people live longer, the quality of life work we did also serves the same purpose. Every time we make things a little easier for an Airman or a Soldier, we give them one less thing to worry about. This translates very easily to being more relaxed and better prepared for the adversities of war they will face. This is especially true for some of the more austere places. Making sure the people stationed there have decent living conditions is literally a lifesaver. 

Gone are the days of the Soldier who supposedly grows tougher and harder the worse his living conditions become. In this war, it has been proven time and again that a well rested and mentally alert person stands the best chance of quickly spotting (and thus either avoiding or disabling) the many dangers faced in a combat zone. By giving people a comfortable place to rest and recuperate at the end of the day, we were able to better prepare them for the next hard day back into a hostile environment. 

Of course, this doesn't just apply to the engineering work we did. It also applies to all the support the Air Force provides in theater. Whether it's services specialists providing a hot meal, communicators ensuring morale calls make it through, or administration and finance personnel making sure pay and records are correct, all of this provides for a clear mindset that allows Soldiers and Airmen to concentrate on their mission and on staying alive. 

With that in mind, we should all be very proud of what we are doing in the area of responsibility. Even though being there requires many sacrifices (not only of us, but also our families), the work we do is important and has an immense impact. And hopefully that makes the hardship of being away from home and family a little easier to bear.