Recent deployment offers Robins Airman opportunity to use passion for photography

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th ABW/PA
An Air Force tasking turned into an opportunity for Tech. Sgt. Gary Nale to put his passion for photography to good use.

Sergeant Nale was pursuing photography as a career before he decided to don Air Force blue. He hoped to be a combat photographer for the Air Force, but instead found himself working for the Command Post. It was a First Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in-lieu of tasking from the Robins Command Post that provided him the chance to provide a snap shot into the lives of many of the Afghanis he encountered.

Sergeant Nale was deployed to Afghanistan as part of a 13-person Air Force Brigade support team as the NCO in charge of the Joint Operations Center. He spent seven months there where the team's main responsibility was running the base, which was located in the heart of Afghanistan, about 50 miles from the Iran border.

"We were there to help free up the Army for more jobs outside the wire," Sergeant Nale said.

The team not only worked with American troops while deployed they also worked with Italian troops, who took command of the base during Sergeant Nale's stint there. When the first Italian operational mentoring and liaison team left Afghanistan, they awarded 15 American troops with Italian Commemorative Crosses and the Army gave 15 Army Commendation Medals to the Italians. Sergeant Nale was one of five members of the Air Force Brigade who received recognition from the Italians.

"I was very proud as NCOIC that five of our people garnered that award," he said.

Regardless of the support team's duties on base, the team was also given the opportunity to participate in non-offensive missions, such as humanitarian missions handing out school supplies, candy or beanie babies donated by fellow Americans. He said once word got out that he was a photographer, he began being asked to go out more frequently.

Other humanitarian efforts he participated in included building new walls for schools and installing water wells for some of the villages.

"You go up to these villages and there is no water, there's no electricity. It's like the pages out of a National Geographic. When they first see the Humvees everyone is running from us, because they are used to the (former enemies) and they generally shot first," he said. "But once we started handing out candy and stuff like that they would just appear out of the wood works."

"We went to a lot of schools in the Harad area, Harad is one of the oldest cities in Afghanistan. It was like the cultural center it never fell to the Russians and it never fell to the Taliban. So we were in a very pro-American and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) area," Sergeant Nale said. "They like us. They want us there. They are rebuilding and they don't like the Taliban."

He was amazed by the Afghanis attempts to help secure the troops safety from the Taliban.

"The Taliban would mine the road from the Afghan base we were stationed at to Camp Zafar or Camp Victory and Regional Command West, an ISAF base. They were seven miles apart and RCF was actually an airport, so we would have to travel that road and the Taliban would mine the road dropping anti-tank bombs on it. The villagers driving by would see them and pick them up and they would arrive at Camp Victory with them because they knew they were meant for us," Sergeant Nale said.

He said one of the most rewarding things from his trip was the opportunity to experience life beyond the confines of the base. He said he was truly in Afghanistan; he wasn't just stuck behind the fences of the base.

"I have been on the roads and I have talked to the people," Sergeant Nale said.

However, Sergeant Nale knew it was time to return home when he began to be desensitized to the harsh realities that surrounded him.

"When you first get there it is like 'oh my gosh' and then after a while it becomes like standard stuff," he said.

But on his last mission, he encountered two young girls with no shoes and thin short sleeve dresses as their only protection from the cold temperatures.

"Here I am bundled up in Gortex, freezing, and they are out there with like nothing sitting in the middle of this trash and playing," Sergeant Nale said.

He said this encounter struck home with him and made him think about his own young son and how lucky they are to be Americans.