Commentary--A photojournalist's perspective of an AFSOUTH mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs

There I was lying in bed.  My eyes slowly opened and I was instantly irritated, because my alarm hadn't gone off yet.  I hate waking up before I have to.  For a moment I forgot where I was.  The bed was too comfortable, the room too clean and there was food in the fridge, so obviously I was not at home.  I stumbled out of the mass of blankets on the bed and made my way to the window; staring back at me was Guatemala City.

All the stress and confusion from the previous week of planning was gone and I could finally breathe. 

I'm enjoying my week away from my office.  No emails to answer, no phone calls to draw me out of a dazed and confused stupor.  Take photos, write notes, compile stories, and submit.  Life is simpler for me here, despite the fact I can't leave my hotel without my wingman.  Not that I don't enjoy working at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), it's just a nice change of pace.

It's day three of a medical subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) mission and we will start exchanging ideas with the Guatemalan air force. I want to be ready.

I'm here with six medical professionals.  Every briefing is littered with so much jargon that I feel like I was dropped off in a foreign country, again.  I have no idea what they were saying, but the members attending from the Guatemala air force are engaged and that's what is important.  So I smile, nod and pull out my camera.  After all that's what I've been trained to do.

We spend the morning weaving in and out of hangers and back shops. Our tour of the Guatemalan base started around 8:30 a.m. and the people briefing us in each of these back shops are already covered in oil and dirt.  Obviously they've already put in a hard day of work, yet they greet us warmly and describe their duties and responsibilities to us, as well as their working conditions.  I can see why Col. Luis Salazar, the Director of the Guatemalan air force hospital, was so anxious for us to meet them, they are really remarkable.

Soon the briefings start.  Normally I would say there is nothing more painful than death by power point, but today that was not the case.  The National Guard Airmen from the 189th Airlift Wing in Arkansas must be wizards in training, or at least mind readers.  Not only did they know exactly what the Guatemalan air force wanted, but they delivered.  Their presentations were so well put together that they were asked to give them again, this time to Guatemalan pilots.

The biggest lesson I've learned during this SMEE is to be open, flexible and approachable.  Things never go as planned.  If the U.S. Air Force and Guatemalan air force representatives had not taken the time early on to discuss and take into consideration each other's goals for this exchange, they never would have made such a strong connection that could positively affect the lives of the Guatemalan airmen for many years.