Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team
PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2012 – Staff Sgt. Corrie Walden spent eight months of her first two years in the Air Force assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
The other 16 months, Walden trained to deploy, deployed, or returned from a deployment in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Currently, Walden is deployed to the provincial reconstruction team here, where she works as a vehicle maintainer. She is part of a two-person shop, supporting more than 70 service members and several mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicles, as well as other equipment.
The maintenance shop is responsible for fixing most systems on the up-armored vehicles, Walden said.
"Any broken part on MRAPs not related to communication falls within vehicle maintenance's line of work," Walden said. "This includes everything from electrical systems to brakes and chassis."
The Bothell, Wash., native said her deployment in Paktia province is unique in her military experience.
"I find myself doing much more than turning wrenches here," Walden said. "I use Army systems to send maintenance reports and work orders, [and] attend daily meetings, all the while focusing on the primary task: repairing anything that comes up broken.
"All the different fields typically found in a vehicle maintenance shop back at home station are rolled up into one here."
Walden usually specializes in fire engine repair, but in this deployment, she works on armored vehicles.
"There are definite differences when working on MRAPs as compared to fire engines," she said. "Though the diesel engines and chassis are similar, subsystems unique to the MRAP, as well as the physical limitations the armor presents, are a challenge."
Not one to turn from difficulty, Walden said she relies on the training she received before the deployment.
"We had several months of hands-on training with the Army, allowing us to not only familiarize ourselves with the vehicles, but Army systems as well," she said.
Also qualified as a vehicle operator, Walden provides immediate support as team members conduct outside-the-wire missions.
"If something happens to a vehicle in the convoy, I'm there, on-scene, to repair it. It's less time on the ground in one place, ensuring the team is safer from an attack."
Convoys are a joint mission for the team, with drivers and security mainly provided by the team's security forces.
"Providing security would be impossible without support from the vehicle maintenance shop," said Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Demarco, the team’s security forces platoon leader. "They keep us safe and our vehicles in good running condition while we conduct our missions."
Walden said she'll return home from Afghanistan with a better understanding of her job, how the Army works, and of a different culture.
"I have worked with Iraqis before and have seen poverty, but it's on a completely different level here," she said. "It's tough to see, but it helps you appreciate what you have and what we all work for.”