Forward Deployed Airman

  • Published
  • By LT Col Stephanie Samenus
  • 185th ARW
SSgt Kimberly Heberer was excited for her 120 day deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan. As an experienced medical laboratory technician, she was set to be part of an Air Force team working in the Medical Facility. On her second day of work, her deployment was drastically changed due to her experience level. Leadership was searching for an experienced laboratory technician to forward deploy with Coalition Forces and SSgt Heberer fit the bill. As a veteran laboratory technician at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, she was the prime candidate to forward deploy.

SSgt Heberer was transferred to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, Afghanistan on the mountainous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was one of a handful of Airmen integrated with over 300 Army Soldiers at FOB Salerno. The base is located just north of the province of Khost, where hundreds of Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters are believed to be hiding. Since 2003, the primitive base has been built up from a single concrete building and sand bag perimeter. Guard towers and fighting positions have been built and a field landing strip and helicopter pad exist. However, most of the roads on the base are gravel and there is no drainage system.

Incoming wounded became a daily occurrence in SSgt Heberer's life. Helicopter flights into FOB Salerno brought many Coalition combat casualties. One flight SSgt Heberer remembers vividly carried three fatally wounded comrades from the Polish Army. When the bodies of the Polish comrades were airlifted to their families, the entire base at FOB Salerno conducted a Hero Flight. "It was significant for us to honor these men who gave their lives in the fight against terrorism," SSgt Heberer said sadly.

The Afghani Army provided security outside the perimeter of FOB Salerno. There were constant threats from suicide bombers. One calm, sunny morning a suicide bomber killed ten local nationals while they were entering the main gate of the base. The medical personnel, including SSgt Heberer, worked feverishly to save as many lives as possible in this mass casualty. These local nationals were friends and co-workers of the military members at FOB Salerno.

Another mass trauma occurred one Sunday morning as the hospital staff relaxed after attending church services. A group of 26 young children were playing by a local lake and accidentally detonated an IED that they stumbled upon. The injured children were rushed to the hospital at FOB Salerno for critical care. Several of the children were killed in the accident.

In total, SSgt Heberer provided Combat Care to over 3,000 United States and Coalition Forces. She was part of a team that provided assistance to over 200 trauma patients and 120 post surgical patients. She was part of three mass casualties and expertly supplied emergency staff with laboratory tests and blood products for critical trauma patients.

Providing humanitarian assistance to many local children was the bright spot of SSgt Heberer's deployment to FOB Salerno. Being a single mother of a young boy herself, she seized the opportunity to help those in need. While deployed, she founded the program Afghanistan's Next Generation. The purpose of this program is to furnish Afghani children with desperately needed clothing from the United States. She supplied the Local National doctors with fifteen boxes of personal care items and clothing for children who would otherwise have nothing. The program continues to aid the children of Afghanistan through SSgt Heberer's work in the United States and her contacts at FOB Salerno.

SSgt Heberer remained strong and professional throughout her deployment. She was dealt a hand of cards that she had not expected. Typically the 185th Air Refueling Wing members deploy as a package, not individually. The Expeditionary Combat Support (ECS) concept has recently been tasking support troops in individual deployments. SSgt Heberer's deployment was different than most because she not only deployed alone from the 185th, but then was forward deployed and integrated with Army and Coalition Forces. Her appreciation of the United States and Iowa deepened and she was thankful to return home to her son and family. "The deployment was a unique experience for me, but I couldn't be happier to be home with my little boy, family and friends", Heberer stated.

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