From the Frontlines: Tech. Sgt. Cherie Caughern

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo., -- "Mommy when you're over there, do you guys get rockets? Do they shoot at you?" 6-year-old Garrett Caughern asks his mother, Tech. Sgt. Cherie Caughern, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron. "What do you do when they do?"

Looking into her son's eyes, understanding his vulnerability, and knowing full-well the significance of her honesty to his question, she calmly responds.

"Yes, we do," she answers. "However, we stay safe, and we are smart about everything we do if it does happen."

Full of curiosity the questioning continues.

"Mommy, what do YOU do?"

With Airmen deploying at an increased rate, this is not an uncommon conversation for Sergeant Caughern and her young son, and one that recently took place prior to her seven-month deployment to the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron in Ali Air Base, Iraq.

"It's very important for me to be honest with my son about what I am doing," said the sergeant. "He sees the news and knows what I'm fighting for, but I do my best to explain it so that he understands why his mom has to be away. The only thing he asks is that I'm not gone forever."

In order to ensure, to the best of her ability that she is not 'gone forever,' Sergeant Caughern said she never takes her stateside training for granted.

"All the training we do here isn't just because we get bored and we want to have an exercise," she said. "We do it for a reason. When you're deployed you have to think beyond the book because you deal with stuff outside of what happens in a textbook scenario. You have to train to the point it becomes muscle memory."

As part of the 509th CES operations management team here, Sergeant Caughern manages the CE Damage Control Center and tracks base infrastructure, utility and airfield damage, through Damage Assessment Response Teams. The DART teams go through pre-determined routes that cover the entire base, and report all damage found to the DCC for future repairs based on priority order. Her team also helps develop the installation Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan preparing the base for response to all major accidents, natural and terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction.

NCO in charge of operations management, Sergeant Caughern said she really focuses on what Airmen will be doing while they are deployed during training, sharing her first-hand knowledge in the process.

"The biggest part of our training stateside, is training Airmen on the disaster control center and how to respond, because that becomes most important when you are deployed," she said. "If you don't know where your people are and what is damaged or who is hurt, you can't do anything.

"We can't tell them, 'this is how it's going to happen every time,' because it's not," she continued. "Every attack that happens when you are deployed is going to be different, but we use the situations we were faced with when we were there, to give them a better understanding of what to expect."

One vital bit of advice, she passes on to CE Airmen, from her previous two deployments, is the virtue of staying calm.

"We teach them that they have to keep their calm and follow their training," said Sergeant Caughern. "When you are deployed and something happens, you deal with the radio going off, people calling about accountability, and everything is all happening at once. Our job is to train them so that they can stay calm under pressure."

It has been more than a year since Sergeant Caughern had that very memorable pre-deployment conversation with her son, however, the significance of it and her overall deployed experience is something that she continues to share with others.

"Ask questions, really pay attention to the people who have been around for a while, who have been deployed, get their knowledge," Sergeant Caughern said. "Don't take these exercises we do here at face value as 'this is how it's going to be every time,' because it's not going to be. Take what they say to heart and really try to understand what they are saying and what they went through because it will make your deployment so much easier.

"It's not going to be text-book perfect, you're going to have stuff exploding over your head and people yelling at you, and it's going to scare you," she said. "But you're going to need to function, and the way to do that, is to train here to better prepare for all the 'excitement' that's going to go on."