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An Airman's Story: Deployment drives home importance of training, learning

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo straps into a helicopter for the first time leaving Camp Vance and heading to Camp Morehead with her team's command surgeon and senior medic during her deployment to Afghanistan. Marcelo is a Flint Mich. native and serves in the Air Force as a medical logistician assigned to the 78th Medical Group at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. (Courtesy photo)

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo straps into a helicopter for the first time leaving Camp Vance and heading to Camp Morehead with her team's command surgeon and senior medic during her deployment to Afghanistan. Marcelo is a Flint Mich. native and serves in the Air Force as a medical logistician assigned to the 78th Medical Group at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. (Courtesy photo)

Pictured here is Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo's team from the Camp Vance Aid Station she was assigned to. They are standing on the flight line in front of a Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter. From left to right: Marcelo, medical logistician; Sgt. 1st Class Holger Mussbacher Austrian special operations medic; Warrant Officer 2 Matt Shoemaker, Australian senior medic; Lt. Col. Gerald Surrett, command surgeon; Maj. Samuel Lashley, medical planner; and Capt. Lindsay Umlauf, physical therapist.This is the team she was assigned to when she arrived which departed halfway through her deployment.

Pictured here is Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo's team from the Camp Vance Aid Station she was assigned to. They are standing on the flight line in front of a Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter. From left to right: Marcelo, medical logistician; Sgt. 1st Class Holger Mussbacher Austrian special operations medic; Warrant Officer 2 Matt Shoemaker, Australian senior medic; Lt. Col. Gerald Surrett, command surgeon; Maj. Samuel Lashley, medical planner; and Capt. Lindsay Umlauf, physical therapist.This is the team she was assigned to when she arrived which departed halfway through her deployment.

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo sits in one the MRZR military vehicles used by the medical team. Marcelo was deployed to Camp Vance for five-and-a-half months as a medical logistician from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. (Courtesy photo)

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo sits in one the MRZR military vehicles used by the medical team. Marcelo was deployed to Camp Vance for five-and-a-half months as a medical logistician from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. (Courtesy photo)

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo stands on Russian ruins with her Team from the Camp Vance Aid Station during her deployment. From left to right - Petty Officer Simon Eden, Australian senior medic; Capt. Jason Mitchler, physical therapist; Maj. Jeffery Berwell, medical planner; Marcelo; Lt. Col. Gerald Surrett, command surgeon; and Georg Schallegger, Austrian special operations medic. (Courtesy photo)

Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo stands on Russian ruins with her Team from the Camp Vance Aid Station during her deployment. From left to right - Petty Officer Simon Eden, Australian senior medic; Capt. Jason Mitchler, physical therapist; Maj. Jeffery Berwell, medical planner; Marcelo; Lt. Col. Gerald Surrett, command surgeon; and Georg Schallegger, Austrian special operations medic. (Courtesy photo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

The first thing you notice about Airman 1st Class Corynn Marcelo when she talks about her recent deployment to Afghanistan is her professionalism and military bearing.

She carries herself like a seasoned veteran and speaks with a quiet authority usually reserved for older, more experienced troops. Yet there’s something that just doesn’t seem to fit.

It’s only when the Flint, Michigan native tells you about how she came to the decision to join the Air Force that it dawns on you.

She’s only 21.

Just like countless other young Americans, she has family who served in the military, and she tried a bit of college before deciding what she really wanted was something different – something challenging. So she enlisted in the Air Force to create a new life for herself, and she found it here with the 78th Medical Group where she works in Bldg. 701 performing medical logistics.

It’s a job she’s proud of, and one she’s quick to point out helps keep the Med Group running.

Marcelo had only been married a couple of months to her husband — a member of Team JSTARS here — when she first got her orders to deploy last year. His deployment followed a couple of months later, and he too has since returned to Robins.

“I was actually excited,” she said enthusiastically. “Our job field, we don’t get to deploy very much, and I wanted to deploy at least once in my career to get the experience.”

It was a long haul from here to there. The journey took six days, with four stops flying on three different aircraft. It marked the beginning of a five-and-a-half month deployment which would change her outlook on life.

Marcelo said the trip in went smoothly, and she felt prepared because she knew an airman who was already there. She attended one of the trainings with me prior to deployment, Marcelo said of the airman already on station, and said she was able to tell her what to expect. 

On the ground, the young airman was assigned to work in an aid station at an Army Special Operations unit at Camp Vance. That unit was the Special Operations Joint Task Force - Afghanistan/NATO Special Operations Component Command - Afghanistan. It was a joint assignment and not only did she work with Americans, she also worked with an Australian and an Austrian senior medic.

She said it was very easy to work with them, but said the accents and the slang took a little getting used to.

Her day-to-day tasks began in the morning with seeing folks at sick call – a change for her because handling logistics, she didn’t normally work with patients. Then it was business as usual doing whatever task was required for the rest of the 10-hour shifts she worked seven days a week. Something else that became business as usual was the sound of alarms and sirens going off with a resounding, “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!” It was a recollection she shared rather matter of factly … like telling you she grabbed breakfast on the way to work.

“It was pretty regular for us to get IDF (indirect fire),” she said. “There were times when there were more at once. I think Sept. 11 we got one every couple of hours throughout the night. Other days we’d get like one or two. Sometimes they were on the other side of base, sometimes they were on the flight line. Twice they happened to land on our camp.”

The regular attacks made Marcelo very appreciative of the alarms and of the U.S. firepower designed to remove the threat.

“It was scary … loud … It makes you realize that C-RAMs (Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar intercept based weapon) are a very good thing,” she said with a knowing grin. “When they shoot them out of the sky and the remnants come down, it’s a lot better than the entire IDF landing.”

Marcelo said that now that she has lived through it, she knows exactly what she would tell another airman if they got word they were being called up.

“When you’re back at home, if there are different sections in the job you do, try to rotate to as many as you can,” she said. “I was lucky that I was able to, because when I deployed I was the only logistics person, but I did every job. If I wasn’t able to get the chance to work in all those sections (at Robins), I don’t know if I would’ve been equipped to do it over there.”

She said the experience broadened her perspective, and she feels like it was not without purpose.

“If you get the chance to do it, do it,” she said. “It sucks when you’re there, and it sucks to be away … I feel like it’s going to help you on the home station side. I feel like I made a difference because going out there and being able to support the mission first hand … to be able to order all those supplies with missions going on … (those supplies could have saved people’s lives).”

When she got the news she was returning home, she said it was an amazing feeling. She also said that since she has returned, she’s had folks ask her about joining the military.

“Every time I tell them it was the best decision of my life,” she said. “Ya know, you get to meet new people and see new places – do things you couldn’t really do if you just went to college and stayed at home.”