Monday, March 17, 2008

Mission to Mideast broadens Travis commander's experience

Mission to Mideast broadens Travis commander's experience
By Danny Bernardini
Article Launched: 03/17/2008 06:20:36 AM PDT

Col. Steven Arquiette (center) talks with Mayor Len Augustine and Leslie Fay. (Joel Rosenbaum / The Reporter)
As Wing Commander and commandant at Travis Air Force Base, Col. Steven Arquiette is responsible for all planes deployed from the base to the war fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No flight leaving the base was more personal to Arquiette than the one he boarded in September while heading to the Combined Air Operation Center in Southwest Asia. He joined military leaders from all four branches and several different countries involved in conflicts within a 5,400-mile area that stretched to Africa.

"It's pretty much a team aspect," Arquiette said while sitting down with The Reporter. "It wasn't (the U.S. Air Force) showing up and beating our chest saying we're King Kong. Everyone had something to offer and a role to play. Even though I'm air mobility at heart, I was on a different team."

Although he did venture into some of the combat areas - including watching it snow in Baghdad - he said his role was primarily sitting in "war rooms" assisting generals with anything relating to airlifts, air drops, refueling and bombings. He likened those rooms to those in movies, complete with video captured by satellite.

On one of those jaunts, Arquiette said, he saw a familiar sight come through the area.

"It was neat to see a Travis
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tail," he said. "I said 'Yup, that's one of mine.'"

Arquiette returned home in February, resuming his duties at Travis, bringing with him memories and stories that he said will stick with him.

"I missed being home, but what I learned and saw was pretty phenomenal," he said. "I was riding in a helicopter and looked down to see camels running through the desert. Of course it was nice flying with nobody shooting at us."

One tale Arquiette shared involved an incident that might have been straight out of a Hollywood script. Arquiette said high-value enemies were discovered to be hiding out in a compound in Afghanistan. Fifty to 60 troops were sent in and eliminated those targets and waited for an airlift out .

"They were supposed to get in and out in a few hours, but the weather didn't allow for an airlift," Arquiette said. "It didn't take long for the enemy to realize there were Americans in there."

The hills surrounding the compound soon were filled with the enemy who soon started raining down gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on those waiting for the airlift. The Air Force soon responded and began bombing the hills around the compound.

This continued for 19 hours, Arquiette said. During the episode, a KC-10 circled high above, refueling the bombers when necessary. After nearly a day of fighting, the weather cleared and the troops were taken to safety. The only injury reported was a soldier with a few scratches.

"That's air power," he said with a smile. "Not just a tanker. Not just a bomber. But it was our technology as well."

While he said it was great to be back home, Arquiette may be moving on by the end of summer. With his two-year stint as Wing Commander coming to an end around May, he said it is still unknown where he will land.

He did say that whatever position he moves to, it will be a joint job at places like the Pentagon, Central Command or Pacific Command.

He said the unknown element is part of the job and even his family is starting to get anxious to find out where the next move will be.

"When I came here, I only had three weeks' notice," he said. "My wife, she's getting antsy. She said 'It's been two years; we've got to move again.'"

Arquiette said if he had his choice, he wouldn't leave Travis and the surrounding community.

"We're enjoying meeting new people, but love the people we've met here," he said. "It's really special here. I wish we could stay a third year."

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