AF Chaplain Assistant Reflects on Deployment


TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - The hour was dusk, and Master Sgt. Russell Dietz, 466th Air Expeditionary Group chaplain assistant, was off-duty and watching a movie at a forward operating base in Afghanistan when he heard "incoming, incoming!" He threw on his helmet and dove for cover. The explosion shook the building and rattled the windows; it had been so close.

When "all clear" was finally announced, Dietz went to see the damage. There were several people injured and two soldiers were badly injured. Self-aid and buddy care was being performed and one of the injured soldiers was transferred to the hardened medical facility for a blood transfusion.

As a chaplain assistant assigned 466 AEG here, it wasn't the first attack Dietz witnessed. The 466 AEG is responsible for joint expeditionary taskings and for the administrative needs of airmen helping Army missions in theater. 

"That's where the chaplain and I come in," said Dietz, who is deployed out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. "Our positions have been uniquely created to integrate into the unit and meet airmen who may, at times, require a chaplain's assistance to assist with personal, professional or spiritual matters."

While he is deployed to the Transit Center, the chaplain assistant takes regular trips to Afghanistan for weeks at a time to seek out the airmen serving in Army units and raise their morale.

The job isn't without risks.

"Bagram Air Field [Afghanistan] had a few attacks," Dietz said. "They had an attack when we first got there, and two other attacks happened that same night. I heard the boom but it was quite a ways off. They were aiming for the flightlines. At Kandahar Airfield [Afghanistan], our very first trip out, they were hit."


One base they visited had seen enough action that they were asked to check on the airmen on night shift. 

"They'd witnessed a live battle with the Afghanistan National Army and the Taliban, and the ANA lost and got dragged off," the chaplain assistant from Anchorage, Alaska, said. "The ANA has taken a lot of it. Attacks are still happening."

Most of the FOBs they visited had full flightlines. Others were smaller and required ground transportation to reach.

"We visited a FOB in September that was under Taliban attack for hours," Dietz said. "They haven't had a visit from us since the attack, so they were surprised to see us. They were grateful and shared their experience. There're a handful of airmen out there and they saw battle for hours."

 The danger is real, but the airmen are worth it, he said.

"It feels good to be part of a team that cares about Air Force members, and I think they feel good that the Air Force cares about them," he said. "They think it's neat that we go out there just for them, and we are happy to. It's worth it; these airmen are each valued a lot."

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