War on Terrorism

Monday, October 29, 2012

From the Frontlines: Maj. Joel Purcell

by Senior Airman Montse Belleau
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

10/25/2012 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- "Our squadron's motto is 'Engineering Combat Power' and that's what we did," Maj. Joel Purcell, 777th Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron said recalling his deployment. "I was in charge of a detachment that designed, managed, constructed, and maintained facilities and infrastructure allowing combat forces to continue their mission."

Purcell was deployed to Shindand AB, Afghanistan for four months and to Bagram AB, Afghanistan for his last two months. He left Whiteman in January and returned in September.

Purcell said his job ranged from constructing dining facilities, entry control points and tactical operations centers, to planning new mission bed downs and even drawdown and transfer plans of bases to Afghan forces.

"What makes the Expeditionary Prime BEEF Squadron unique is the speed in which we can respond to a situation," Purcell said. "Generally when an emergency happened, we were on a helicopter to the area the same day."

In addition to the response time, Purcell said his team offered specialized engineering skills other organizations do not possess.

"A few examples of this is my team was able to respond to a State Department request to assess a bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan within two days, and we were able to construct a temporary ramp to recover a C-17 that had slid off the runway during a snow storm," Purcell said.

He said being an engineering 911 force, he never knew what order he would be given.

"I still remember a call I received late night on a Sunday from AFCENT-forward. I was told 'we have some individuals relocating to a classified location next week, we need your folks on the ground surveying the area and planning their bed down tomorrow morning, we will have a helicopter on the ramp in five hours!,"' Purcell said. "My typical day was anything but typical."

At Whiteman, Purcell is in charge of the Civil Engineer Squadron's Operation Flight where he is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and repair of the facilities and infrastructures on Whiteman.

"In Afghanistan, the engineering forces I led were similar, but rather than maintaining a base, we were responsible for a region," he said. "Most of the day-to-day maintenance in Afghanistan is done by contractors; we were called in when the timeline was short, or the area was too dangerous to get a contractor in."

Even though he was busy with his duties, just like during his previous three deployments, Purcell said he found time to help with the USO and also tutored some of his Airmen working on their bachelor degrees.

"I have deployed many times and I still keep in touch with folks I met on my first deployment 13 years ago," Purcell said.

Purcell said overall it was a difficult but rewarding deployment, and the best part of his deployment was the people he met and the friends he made.

"Every time I deploy and I interact with the locals, I am reminded how lucky we are to be Americans and how much we take for granted," he said.

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