19th ARG intelligence officer worked behind scenes to ensure safety in deployed location

  • Published
  • By Holly Birchfield
  • 78 ABW/PA
While many Americans get a glimpse of the global war on terrorism from a world away via the media, Capt. James Wacker, senior intelligence officer in the 19th Air Refueling Group, got a close-up look at the mission while recently serving a seven-month deployment in Baghdad, Iraq.

The intelligence officer worked as a personnel security intelligence analyst with the Multinational Forces in Iraq.

"I was an intelligence analyst," he said. "I was tracking threats and trends of threats as they pertain to the security of the top seven Iraqi officials and the personnel supporting them."

Captain Wacker used his intelligence expertise and worked with his Army counterparts to unearth improvised explosive devices and other threats that lie in wait.

The captain was responsible for the safety and protection of top Iraqi officials, including the prime minister, the president, and others.

To gear up for his behind-the-scenes mission, Captain Wacker underwent combat skills training at Fort Sills, Okla., before stepping into his role in the deployed location.

That role involved keeping his eyes open and his hand on the pulse of potential threats to those he was tasked to protect.

"I'm a threat analyst," he said. "I tried to determine where the threats were and where the threats were going to be. We supported combat convoys that were moving throughout Baghdad and helping provide security for the (top officials)."

From the start, the captain put in 13-hour days, pulling a seven-day work week. To meet mission needs, he would sometimes even work 16-hour days.

"You do what you've got to do," he said. "You get used to it believe it or not."

Captain Wacker was one of two Intel analysts who supported several hundred military members while in the deployed environment.

"It's a purple environment, basically meaning we had (U.S) Army and we also worked with PSD (personnel security detail) teams," he said. "The PSD teams were made up of Iraqi Army and the personnel security details for each of the officials. They were kind of like the Secret Service."

The captain's coordination cell worked with different groups to ensure the mission was met.

"There were several hundred U.S Army folks whom we provided intelligence for," he said. "We tried to give knowledge of where the threats were, like direct fire such as small arms or indirect fire such as mortars or rocket attacks. Then, we tried to provide information of where IEDs were and where they might be in the future."

Working hand in hand with other services is becoming commonplace for Air Force members like the captain.

"It's getting to be more the trend anymore," he said. "The forces are working more and more purple."

Lt. Col. Todd Robinson, director of staff for the 19th ARG, said Captain Wacker aided the mission in a critical area.

"I think he paved the way with the Army," he said. "He was able to fill in the gaps with some very important (intelligence) information they were lacking previously. He was able to go in there and lay new ground work, get them information they needed to move safely through areas where they probably encountered a lot more turmoil previously."

The intelligence analyst easily knocked down 70-hour work weeks in the months he was there. But one thing was for sure, he was not alone.

"This is a team fight," he said. "Everyone's contributing the best they can. We're learning a lot from the Army and I really think there's a lot we can learn from the Army. In a sense, we were directly supporting the Army units with threat information. It was a great opportunity to learn something new."

Lt. Col. Scott Rizer, 19th Operations Support Squadron commander, said he believes Captain Wacker's service in the AOR is a testament to the important role the Air Force plays in theater.

"I think we all realize that we're over (there) flying, fighting, and winning," he said. "But, there are so many other capabilities that we take to the fight."

Colonel Rizer said in addition to providing intelligence in theater, Airmen were supporting the mission with communications in Afghanistan and other capabilities on the ground.

Uncovering potential dangers wasn't the only way the captain and his comrades were making a difference in the area of responsibility.

"One of the biggest things I've enjoyed is that family members and others from the nation have sent in stuff," he said. "We tried to collect school supplies (and other things like) soccer balls, some toiletries, and then we took them out to the local schools and disseminated them out to the local schools throughout Iraq."

The captain and his fellow servicemembers reached out to those who didn't have a family to call their own as well.

"We also collected things for a local orphanage that's in the Red Zone," he said. "People risk their lives to come in and we give that stuff to them (to deliver). That's the most fun thing that I absolutely loved doing because you got to give something to someone."

Captain Wacker said being able to help people was a gift.

"You gave a soccer ball to a kid that's got nothing," he said. "Out in the Third World, soccer is the sport. If you gave them a soccer ball, you could foster teamwork and you gave them something that keeps them doing something positive and constructive in a war zone. That's pretty rewarding."

The intelligence officer said the most rewarding part of this deployment, however, was knowing that he was saving lives.

"(The most rewarding part for me) was keeping people safe," he said. "Being able to walk out, knowing no one died on my watch, I feel good about that."

The officer, who volunteered for the deployment, said he believes in the mission he served.