Middle-east bound and down, loaded up and trucking

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Commuting by motor vehicle is something people may take for granted, operating cars and trucks almost robotically, going here and there to conduct business each day. 

For the Airmen of the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron Vehicle Operations, driving is their profession. A job they must sometimes complete while dodging roadside bombs and terrorist's bullets.

"We are no longer just bus drivers," said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Rincker, 509th LRS Vehicle Operations section supervisor. "We are joint expeditionary combat Airmen who deploy to every overseas contingency operation that the U.S. Armed Forces are a part of."

To prepare for these deployments vehicle operators complete extensive training to sharpen the skills they need to deliver the goods, including a four-week Basic Combat Convoy Training course with the Army at Camp Bullis, Texas. 

"There, we learn land navigation, Army communication systems, combat convoy operations, complete a combat lifesaver course, and train on the M-249, M-2, M-4 and M-9 weapons," said Sergeant Rincker.

All this training is put to use, as the operators frequently become targets for the enemy, who know the importance of their mission. Their actions haven't gone un-noticed.

"Since the war on terror began, vehicle operators at Whiteman have garnered seven bronze stars, five Purple Hearts, four Meritorious Service Medals, 53 Army Commendation medals, seven Army Achievement Medals and 10 Air Force combat action medals," said Sergeant Rincker.

As the fight against terrorism moves forward, the high demand for vehicle operators spreads the Whiteman team across the globe for months at a time.

"This year alone, we had more than 15 members deployed at the same time, to five different countries, in support of the War on Terrorism," said Sergeant Rincker.

Senior Airman Kristin Campbell, a vehicle operator for the 509th LRS, was one of those Airmen. While deployed, she drove convoy missions that were often a week long, wheeling a tractor-trailer across Iraq, to supply coalition forces.

"Whatever they put on our trucks, we'd take," she said. "They were long, 12 hour days at a minimum, so it was definitely rewarding to come back to the states." 

At Whiteman, vehicle operators complete a range of mission-essential functions, from delivering freight with forklifts and flatbed trucks, to greeting distinguished visitors and transporting them around the base.

"We are their first impression of the base," said Airman Campbell, of the distinguished visitors.
"We are the ones setting the tone anytime anyone high-ranking comes to Whiteman." 

The 509th LRS Vehicle Operation section keeps the Whiteman mission moving.  In order for Whiteman to put "warheads on foreheads," maintenance crews need parts to ready the jets, pilots must be on hand to fly them, and airfield management needs supplies to keep the runway operational. Vehicle operators play a vital role in all of these functions.

"Without our section, parts, pilots, politicians and anything or anyone needing logistics support wouldn't get to its desired location," said Sergeant Rincker.