A warrior’s story supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rene Romero
  • 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron commander
"The small arms fire was directed all around us and I did not return fire since we were being escorted by the M1117's armored security vehicle which had thermal sights...The rocket propelled grenade strike was behind me, in number seven, whereas I was ahead of it in number five with a "bobtail" (armored truck used for transporting trailers) between us. We did have to scoot forward to avoid the fire blazing behind us. So the RPG was about 100 meters behind me and the small arms fire was seemingly everywhere. . . . there can be no doubt that the RPG gunner had aimed at us as well, then chose a separate target (thank God, given that the struck vehicle only had a driver who jumped clear)." 

This scene represents a day in the life of a soldier on convoy duty in Iraq. Maj. Paul Nichols lived this scene and has survived many others. He helps protect the lives of more than 1,000 soldiers and 280 weapons systems. He has been "outside the wire" on more than 25 combat patrols to date. He is a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) expert for the U.S. Army. The specifics of what he does are classified. Suffice it to say, he has helped to save countless lives while placing himself in harm's way. 

So what's unique about this Soldier's story? Well, this Soldier is not a Soldier at all. He is an Airman. He is a major in the United States Air Force, an E-3 AWACS air surveillance officer assigned to the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron at Kadena Air Base. He is deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is among a score of Airmen filling "in lieu of" taskings to assist our U.S. Army comrades on the front lines of the War on Terror. He will tell you, he is "a USAF officer filling a Navy billet for an Army Battalion on a Marine outpost." I guarantee you, when he entered E-3 initial qualification training at Tinker AFB, Okla., he never imagined what he would be doing today. 

Major Nichols could have said, "Hey, I didn't sign up for this. I'm an Airman. If I wanted to join the Army, I would have." He did not say that. Instead, he is doing his duty as his country has called him to do. When he raised his right hand and voluntarily swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, it was never clear how he would do it. He just knew that he would.