I've got it now

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- This is kind of Ernie Pyle-esque.

I've got it now. If I thought I had a clue from 8,000 miles away (back in the U.S.), I didn't know the half of it. From my vantage point now 800 miles away (in Southwest Asia), I can't feel all the tension and fear that the family practitioner, Medical Services Corp officer and aeromedical and bioenvironmental engineering technicians we sent from Goodfellow to Afghanistan, or the nurse practitioner we sent to Iraq, but I think I can understand much more clearly.

I'm at a "stand off" base with some high-dollar assets that support both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

I talk to the maintainers who work six 12- hour days and have planes flying two 10-hour missions a day.

They worry about flickering warning lights because a plane may not be able to fly that day. The Security Forces air base ground defenders spend 12 hours a day checking vehicles, one by one, from a pit, to be sure there is a difference in the threat level between this side of the fence and the other.

The medical clinic is open from 6:30 a.m. to midnight because there is always a ground or flying shift coming on or going to bed.

We worry about things like which influenza vaccine to give because one might cause one more day than the other that a crew member can't fly or a mechanic can't fix a deficiency. I can go to Finance, Personnel, Pass and ID, or the Communication Squadron at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and get what I need done because all those things are important to flying what the air tasking order dictates.

The outputs that all this activity create are very clear and focused, not in the slightest bit muddled by demands not directly related to prosecuting the war: Refueling, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Every day we: - Deliver about 1 million pounds of fuel in 15 missions to about 85 coalition aircraft. - Take 6,000 aerial photos, some of which you all might be using to teach the intel students. - De-conflict and direct hundreds of flights over Afghanistan and Iraq.
I took command of the 380th Expeditionary Medical Group on Sept. 11.

Can you imagine what it's like to be in Southwest Asia, on 9/11, taking responsibility for our part of a war that started because the country realized what terrorists could do to us?

That morning, the wing presented a truly moving 9/11 ceremony at our unpretentious memorial. I could not have arranged the stage more fittingly. It's because of what that scene summarizes that the medical team I am responsible for also sees our role here very clearly: - Prevent everyone associated with these outputs, and that's everyone assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, from becoming ill or injured: maximize effectiveness rates. - If we're not completely successful at that, then get anyone affected quickly back to health and work: minimize downtime - And finally, send everyone back to their home base at the end of their rotation free from transmissible disease and in good health: protect our country's sovereign borders and hometowns.

I can make this even simpler to understand. I say that voting polls should be at only three locations in the United States: the Pentagon, the hole in the ground where the twin towers were and the field in Shanksville, Penn.

(Col. Simon is deployed from Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, where he is the commander of the 17th Medical Group)