Special to American Forces Press Service
April 22, 2009 - Thousands of Iraqi detainees in detention facilities throughout Iraq require air travel for everything from transfers to attending court cases, and thanks to one Air Force captain, they get where they need to go. Capt. M. Kathryn Kotora, Joint Task Force 134 future operations air officer, coordinates all air travel for detainees throughout Iraq.
"All detainees must first be taken to Camp Cropper, where they are put in the detainee system before being taken to the detention facility where they will be held," she said. "That's where I come in. They need air travel to and from the facilities to attend their court hearings, to be transferred to different facilities and for general release."
Kotora, a security forces officer deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said this deployment has been unique for her because she has been doing work more suited for an operations officer or logistician.
"It has been a challenge, but it's like anything else -- once you get the hang of something, it becomes second-nature," she said. "I have really learned a lot about how the Air Force works as a whole."
During her tenure here, the Auburn, Wash., native has coordinated more than 250 air missions, including 48 flights transferring more than 17,000 detainees to and from Camp Cropper.
"It's a great feeling knowing I have played an important part in the detainee operations here," she said. "Hopefully, our hard work will pay off when the Iraqis eventually take over this mission."
Besides arranging flights for detainees, Kotora also ensures routine helicopter support is available for servicemembers traveling to and from detention facilities.
"The guards and the other people working at these facilities are doing such a great job in a highly demanding role that when they get the chance to go home or get some down time, it's very important to me to coordinate air travel as quickly as possible," she said.
The detainee-operations mission is a joint effort among all the U.S. services and Defense Department contractors, as well as the Iraqi military, and Kotora said that is what has made this deployment worthwhile for her.
"That is what I will remember the most from the deployment -- the people I got to work with," she said. "I have never worked with the other services for any long period of time, and getting that chance has been awesome.
"When I first got here," she continued, "I thought it was going to be difficult. But once you realize that everyone is on the same team, trying to complete the same mission, you start to understand the true meaning of teamwork."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Beckham serves with U.S. Air Forces Central's Baghdad media outreach team.)