One Airman’s lesson on ‘The Wall’ in Afghanistan
By Master Sgt. Roger Parsons, 116 Air Control Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 04, 2014
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- In Pink Floyd's song, "Another Brick in the Wall," it starts, "Daddy's flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory."
According to Capt. Robert Brumfield, an operations officer with the 116th Security Forces Squadron, these words and a real life wall took on new meaning during his deployment to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan from January to September 2012.
As a first lieutenant, functioning as the 116th Civil Engineering Squadron operations officer in the Georgia Air National Guard, Brumfield supervised more than 120 Airmen deployed to forward operating locations throughout Afghanistan during his deployment.
He was tasked with ensuring the Airmen in his charge had the resources needed to get the job done and return home safely.
"Our main objective was to provide civil engineering support to joint forces throughout Afghanistan," said Brumfield. "Many of the forward operating bases we traveled to were in very austere regions where attacks were common place."
Brumfield reflected on an operation in a remote area of Eastern Afghanistan when his Airmen were faced with the challenge of having to do their jobs with limited resources while under enemy fire.
"After two unsuccessful attempts to complete their mission due to a lack of materials needed to complete the job," said Brumfield, "I accompanied the third group determined to complete the mission."
"We arrived by helicopter at night because it was too dangerous to fly in during the day. As soon as the chopper touched down we jumped off and shuffled behind the wall."
The wall was a Hesco defensive barrier filled with sand, stacked two high with barbed wire that surrounded the compound.
"I learned to appreciate that wall real quick," he shared. "When we first arrived I was briefed by Army leadership about the daily attacks that were common. We were told to bunker down when attacks occurred until the Soldiers guarding the wall gave the all clear. We were also instructed that if the attack ever got too bad we would be told to report to the wall to help defend the compound."
The captain shared how every day, like clockwork, mortars and small arms fire rained down on their location.
After successfully completing their mission, while awaiting the arrival of their helicopter for the trip back to Bagram, the call came.
"Mortars exploded around the compound followed by a barrage of small arms and machine gun fire," said Brumfield.
He and his men were summoned to the wall with weapons in hand.
"I did a quick pre-combat inspection on my men and we hit the wall," said Brumfield. "As I was returning fire alongside a Soldier on the wall, I heard a zipping sound and a sandbag a foot in front of me split wide open from a bullet. Realizing bullets were coming within striking distance of my position, it was at that moment on the wall it hit me; this is real."
"When I was on that wall," shared Brumfield, "my training kicked in and it was all about muscle memory.
"Having served 22 years as an enlisted member in Security Forces in both the Army and Air National Guard prior to receiving my commission came in handy that day."
Shortly after the firefight ended, Brumfield shared how his thoughts turned to his family.
Safely back at Bagram, Brumfield reflected on the events and realized the role his family, friends and employer back home played in lending support and encouragement.
"Back at my home away from home, a hand-drawn self-portrait by my then six-year-old son, Zane, brought me a lot of comfort and put a smile on my face even on the toughest of days," said Brumfield.
He recounted how Skype and calling cards made a big difference in keeping his family connected compared to the early days of his career when letters were the staple of communication during deployments.
"After returning from the mission where we were attacked, Skype proved to keep us almost too well connected," shared Brumfield.
The captain shared how his wife, Theresa, sensed something during their video chat and asked point blank if he had been shot at.
"Yes," he said. "I couldn't lie. We moved on and nothing more was said."
"She's a strong lady," remarked Brumfield. "Every time I deploy she takes on all the added responsibility of acting as a single mom and still manages to encourage me."
Theresa shared how their Guard family helped her cope while her husband was away.
"The big advantage of the Guard is the extended family we have, especially during deployments," said Theresa.
"While Robert was deployed I received calls on numerous occasions from other 116th friends to check on me and the kids. It was comforting to know we had friends across the state that I could call on at any time."
Her husband agreed.
"When you have a supportive family and a network of people to stand in the gap while you're gone, it makes it a lot easier to focus on your job and get home safely," said Brumfield.
"As a part-time member of the Guard, my full-time employer, Southern Company, has also played a huge role in helping my family during deployments," he added. "It's so much easier to meet the demands of my military career when I know they are fully supportive of me and my family."
He went on to share how he gets to stand in the gap for his oldest son Blake now.
"Blake has chosen to follow in my footsteps serving in the military, graduating from Marine Corp boot camp in June," shared Brumfield. "To say I'm proud is an understatement."