Combat Trucker Excels in Personnel Position
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- "Just go to the training so we have someone trained until the actual (personnelist) gets here."
That statement is what ultimately landed Tech. Sgt. Christopher McDaniel, a vehicle operator deployed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in his current position as the NCO in charge of personnel, or S1, for the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team and all the residents of Forward Operating Base Smart, Afghanistan.
This deployment, his fourth, is the first time McDaniel strayed away from his vehicle operator career field. When he joined the Air Force more than 10 years ago, it was time, not position that drove his career choice.
"I always knew I was going to join the Air Force, since I was a little kid," he said. "I knew that it was something I wanted to do and even then, knew that it was going to be something I was going to retire from."
McDaniel walked into the Air Force recruiter's office a year after graduating from high school, and he told the recruiter he wanted to join and wanted to leave in about a month. He was given a list of five Air Force specialty codes. He chose 2T1X1, or vehicle operator.
"Vehicle operations sounded fun to me," McDaniel said.
According to McDaniel, a Detroit native, being a vehicle operator has been fun. McDaniel has deployed three times before and amassed more than 34,000 combat miles on convoys in Iraq. He said he believes that deploying and driving convoys is something every Air Force vehicle operator should experience.
"Once I started doing convoys, it really let me see the bigger picture, where (vehicle operators) fit into the bigger mission," McDaniel said. "At home station, you're driving bus routes or something like that, and you don't really see how you fit into the overall mission. Deployed, you're moving stuff that is integral to someone, somewhere. You are taking vital supplies and cargo to other bases that need it."
After his last deployment, McDaniel even logged instructor time at the Air Force's Basic Combat Convoy Course, or BC3, at Camp Bullis, Texas. He trained other vehicle operators on the ins and outs of convoys to prepare them for deployment. Though he enjoyed instructing, McDaniel said he wanted to deploy again.
When the opportunity arose for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan as part of a Provincial Reconstrucion Team, McDaniel jumped at the chance.
"When the unit deployment manager told everyone there was a deployment to Afghanistan, I immediately said 'send me,'" he said. "I hadn't deployed in a while and I wanted to get back out there."
Training to be a part of a PRT is very involved. Many members have to attend months of training before deploying and McDaniel was no different. He attended his first training related to the deployment in June for an October departure.
"I was training as a vehicle guy," he laughed.
When McDaniel arrived at Camp Atterbury, Ind., in July for more training with the team, the needs of the team changed McDaniel's route.
"We thought I was just going to fill this position at Camp Atterbury until the real, trained S1 arrived," McDaniel said .
U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rowland, PRT Zabul sergeant major, said three things factored in the teams' decision to choose McDaniel as the interim S1.
"The first was rank, second was what section could afford to lose one of its noncommissioned officers and the third was personality," Rowland said. "McDaniel fit the bill."
Now, three months into the deployment, McDaniel continues to be the interim S1 and has embraced his position, despite his lack of formal training.
"Here, the job is all about accountability, being accountable for the other people on your team," McDaniel said.
As the adminstrative NCO, McDaniel is in charge of accountability for every member on the FOB, to include the military, civilians, contractors, interpreters and local nationals. He also takes care of personnel issues like emergency leave, reports, awards and decorations. At FOB Smart, the S1 is also appointed the lead mail handler; all of which McDaniel takes in stride.
"I would say the biggest obstacle is that I'm not an admin person and I don't have some of the answers or access to people's questions right away," McDaniel said. "I find those answers though. It's all about adapting to your environment and completing the mission. I'm learning as we go."
His leadership has noticed his drive and dedication in regards to his position.
"I thought it was pretty amazing that he could make the transition so quickly from an operational job like that to a more administrative position," said Lt. Col. Justin Kraft, PRT Zabul commander. "Frankly he's doing a great job, not just with the S1 position, but with everything he's taken on."
Along with being the S1, McDaniel has also taken on the role of morale and welfare coordinator, hosting Texas Hold'em tournaments, Spades tournaments, and other events for the FOB.
"That's something you usually don't get from an S1, or a trucker for that matter," Kraft said. "He really cares about the unit and his esprit de corps is something that most people should emulate."
Though he spends a majority of his time wearing the S1 hat, McDaniel is still able to take a turn behind the wheel and has racked up some Afghanistan miles as well. He advises anyone who is put in a position outside of their level of expertise to keep an open mind.
"You don't know if you are going to like the position or not," McDaniel said. "Remember that whoever put you in that position must believe you can handle it. I thank (my leadership) for the opportunity to expand my breadth of experience."