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    "Bronx girl" Drives 120 Convoys in Afghanistan

    "Bronx girl" drives 120 convoys in Afghanistan

    Photo By Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester | Senior Airman Vanessa Velez, a convoy driver with the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction...... read more read more



    Story by Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester 

    455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs   

    By Master Sgt. Demetrius A. Lester
    455 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

    BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan – Airman First. Regardless of what job Air Force individuals have, being an Airman comes first. As a member of the most elite Air Force in history, today's Airmen often get the news that Senior Airman Vanessa Velez received when she was first notified of her 365-day deployment.

    "I was told, 'you won't be working vehicle maintenance; you will be a driver,'" said Airman Velez, who took the news in stride. "At Fort Bragg, I found out I wouldn't be driving shuttles, distinguished visitors, or commanders around in a car or bus like I was mistakenly told at my duty station. I would be driving a fully-loaded Humvee outside the wire in enemy territory at least five times a week."

    Airman Velez recalls Lt. Col. Bobby Robinson, who would end up being her Provincial Reconstruction Team commander, telling the team they would be living in tents and riding outside the wire.

    "That's when reality set in. At first, I was shocked and couldn't believe that a girl from the Bronx, N.Y., was about to be a driver in a hostile situation," said Airman Velez.

    When Airman Velez arrived in Afghanistan, she was assigned to the Bagram PRT, whose mission is to secure and rebuild a post-Taliban Afghanistan by extending the authority of the Afghan central government, improving security and promoting reconstruction. The PRTs Airman Velez and her team lead in Afghanistan have been so successful that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has used them as the template to help rebuild Iraq.

    "My first convoy, I was so nervous that I kept stomping the brakes until the brake line broke," said Airman Velez, a vehicle maintenance controller with the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. "The heat and fluid from the brake line started a fire ... in the middle of Charikar District in Parwan."

    More than 120 missions later, Airman Velez has experienced no more brake problems or fires. She continues to shuttle truck and mission commanders outside the wire on a daily basis like she was told, but no buses or Landcruisers – just her Humvee. Airman Velez said she believes she has made a difference for both America and the Afghan people during this war.

    "I have learned so much about a lot of things, especially my job and the Afghan people," said Airman Velez. "I had the mentality they were all Al-Qaeda and Taliban until I talked to them. After spending time with the Afghans, I learned they don't like the Taliban either. Everything has gotten better since my arrival in March 2007... even the roads have improved."

    When she's outside the wire, Airman Velez is somewhat of a celebrity with the Afghan children. "They get excited because they see a female Airman. They want to touch my hair and earrings," she said. "The Afghans want to learn and have a lot of questions. They want to work and take care of their families like most ordinary people do."

    This is Airman Velez's third deployment in three years, but she has no regrets.

    "I am an Airman first, just like all the services have been preaching," she added. "This shows, in this day and age, you could be tasked to do anything to support the war on terror.

    "My job satisfaction comes from constantly thinking about all the people's lives I have in my hands," said Airman Velez, who's primary job is getting people back and forth from a mission safely. "My vehicle is my job. I drive so much that my Humvee is my office. I don't have a computer, e-mail, or an office. I have a Humvee."



    Date Taken: 02.12.2008
    Date Posted: 02.12.2008 14:58
    Story ID: 16287
    Location: BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AF 

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