Special to American Forces Press Service
March 20, 2008 - Throughout Army Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Branchetti's childhood, the Task Force 12 soldier loved to build forts with his two brothers. They would pretend they were soldiers in opposing armies, battling with each other to become the leader of a dangerous, yet familiar, territory known as their backyard. Being the oldest, Branchetti always played the "good guy" during the backyard skirmishes and welcomed the challenge whenever his brothers would team up against him.
Now the noncommissioned officer in charge of Task Force 12's Air Defense Airspace Management Cell, Branchetti continues to look for challenges in his daily life and tries to motivate other soldiers in the process.
"Since I arrived to Task Force 12, I have been working outside of my military occupational specialty," said Branchetti, a Patriot missile launching station operator and maintainer. "A few months ago, I didn't know anything about aviation, but now I can tell you all about aircraft and operations. I try to learn everything about the job I'm doing, and then I ask myself, 'What's next?'"
ADAM Cell soldiers keep track of the locations and altitudes of "no-fly zones" for Task Force 12 aviators.
"Fly zones can be closed off for several reasons, like qualification ranges, artillery test-firing or for special operations," said Branchetti, who hails from Cape Coral, Fla. "When no-fly zone information comes out, we put it into a tracking system and push it out to the units." Not all no-fly zones mean no flying, he explained. Some zones just have limitations on what times and altitudes they can be traveled.
Working with Patriot missile launch systems has given him a clearer understanding of the altitudes at which different objects travel, but his experiences working with a special police transition team in Iraq have given him an uncanny knowledge of the roads and terrain in the Baghdad area, he said.
"In 2006, I worked side by side with the Iraqi commandos and with an Operational Detachment Alpha team; most of our missions consisted of locating and capturing high-value targets and items in the Baghdad area," said Branchetti, who has been in the military for more than 14 years. "My wife, Mercedes, and my daughter, Vittoria, weren't exactly pleased that I volunteered for this assignment, but my MOS had not deployed to Iraq since 2003, and there are so many soldiers today who have deployed multiple times already; I felt it wasn't right for me to continue to stay behind."
Branchetti said he gained a vast knowledge of convoy routes in the area. He also earned the Combat Action Badge for his involvement in numerous firefights with al Qaeda in Iraq operatives.
"When we would clear a building, sometimes I would be the second or third person to enter the building. ... That means I trusted them with my life," he said. "My tour with the Iraqis was awesome, because I got to learn so much about Iraqi people, their military and myself."
Branchetti is a real asset to Task Force 12 not only because he has been in the area before and knows the terrain, but also because he knows the air above the terrain, said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Hoff, operations officer for Task Force 12 and a native of Felton, Minn.
In addition to being a combat veteran, Branchetti is airborne and air-assault qualified; he is currently cross-training to become a UH-60 Black Hawk door gunner.
"(Branchetti's) combat experience has allowed him to make a smooth transition into becoming a door gunner," said Army Sgt. Juan Haninger, a Stockton, Calif., native who serves as a flight instructor in Company A, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. "Seeing someone who is so multi-tasked as (Branchetti) really makes me want to push myself and seek challenges in life."
Even though several years, and thousands of miles, now separate Branchetti from the backyard he and his brothers once used as a battleground, his desire to accept a challenge was never left behind.
"I try to challenge myself every day and motivate the soldiers around me to challenge themselves to become not just better soldiers, but better people," said Branchetti. "I feel extremely proud of myself and my military career, because I accepted each challenge and I succeeded."
(Army Sgt. Brandon Little serves in the Task Force 12 Public Affairs Office.)