News: Logistics Airman is top officer, earns Bronze Star
Story by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Air Force Capt. Dayton Blume sat in a helicopter as it approached a forward operating base at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. The helicopter was filled with several Soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which Blume was assigned to in a Joint Expeditionary Tasking.
The helicopter landed at the base and the Air Force captain got out with more than 30 Soldiers, quickly performing security checks for insurgents or improvised explosive devices to clear the helicopter landing zone. He'd volunteered to help out - it wasn't his regular job.
The 673rd Logistics Readiness officer deployed from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to Afghanistan from May 28, 2013, until April 11. His actions earned him a Bronze Star and the Air Force Logistics Readiness Company Grade Officer of the Year.
Having been in the Air Force for about five years, the year in Afghanistan was Blume's first deployment.
"I was itching to deploy and volunteering left and right," said the native of Overland Park, Kansas. "I put on captain the day I flew over there."
Blume was initially assigned to the 966th Air Expeditionary Squadron. As a Joint Expeditionary Tasking Airman, he was operationally assigned to the 101st.
"They were the 'Band of Brothers' unit," he said. "In about a month, they are decommissioning that unit. I got to be part of their last deployment."
When that unit left, the Air Force logistics officer became a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
"It was interesting being the Air Force guy in the Army world," he said. "Until you're with an Army unit, you don't realize how different the jargon is."
Blume said he enjoyed working with the Army, and was amazed by the Afghan people. In his time there, his successes included leading a joint coalition team of more than 50 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and civilians teamed with six coalition partner nations to provide logistical support to the Afghan National Security Forces.
"It's kind of a different mission," he said. "In [Afghan] culture, we don't tell them what they are doing is wrong. We tried to lead them to the answer we thought was right, so they could take ownership of the decisions. It's kind of a blending of cultures and processes.
"I loved doing it; I really enjoyed working with the Afghans. For all the bad publicity, I think there are a lot of really good, smart people over there. Granted, some of their stuff may be a little behind ours, but I really enjoyed learning from them. These guys know how to work. They know how to motivate their people. They are really good at the less technical stuff."
Blume said he would talk to the Afghan leadership about logistics, he found they were good at convoys, and considered their work a logistical enterprise. He found some areas to give advice on, such as supply management.
"I'd sit down and talk to them almost on a daily basis, sometimes two or three times a day," he said. "I really liked to get out and work side-by-side with the guys loading trucks. They'd stack equipment 20 feet high on their trucks and tie it down. We'd say, 'Hey, maybe this isn't the best way of doing things.'"
Blume said much of what they did amazed him.
"One cool thing I did was seeing their depot warehouse in Kabul," he said, explaining how every piece of supply or ammunition that comes in would go to that warehouse. "It is truly the most beautiful, most organized warehouse I've ever seen. Everything's put away on the shelf; it is incredible. The problem is that if you call them up and say you need a tire, if they see an empty box, they don't look next to it where there's the same tire from a different brand. That's a logistical problem, but it is truly an amazing thing we've given them.
"One of the real problems that stood out is the Soviet mentality versus the American mentality. The Soviets used a push style of logistics supply. They get 10 units and 100 pieces of stuff in. Say it's brake pads; they all get 10 brake pads. In the American system, we keep those at the warehouse until a unit says they need them. That was one of the things we were battling in our advising."
Blume's role allowed him to travel a lot. With that travel came the necessary situational awareness of potential dangers.
"The constant looking over your shoulder part was interesting," he said. "The whole time you're out there, you're looking for threats. This guy that I'm advising, he could turn and shoot me. We had some insider attacks on the FOB. After one of them, an Afghan guy turned and shot the guy who had attacked the Americans. [The Afghans] want to protect you and are very good about it.
There was another guy in my career field who was killed while I was there. Just driving around Kabul keeps you on edge. I drove around in an armored SUV with bullet-proof glass and, at any time, we could have run over something. We were not out actively searching for the enemy; the Afghans were doing that and they are good. They like to fight and kill insurgents. I stayed safe."
Blume said he was glad he deployed for a year.
"Captain Blume has done a remarkable job taking on the task at hand and delivering the goods that our Airmen have been known for," said Air Force Col. Brian Duffy, JBER and 673rd Air Base Wing commander. "On behalf of the whole team, you have my sincere congratulations and thanks for a job well done."
After returning from the deployment, the logistics officer said he didn't expect to win awards.
"I was shocked," he said. "It's the first award I've ever won. I feel like I was just out there doing what I was supposed to do."