By U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cammie Quinn
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan-- With an average of more than 70 service members per team, an assignment to a provincial reconstruction team is an uncommon opportunity; even more uncommon is such an assignment for three alums from the same college.
Paktya Provincial Reconstruction Team U.S. Air Force officers, Capt. Tyler Johnson, a Paktya PRT lead engineer from San Antonio, 1st Lt Cale Reeves, Paktya PRT engineer from Angleton, Texas and 1st Lt Ryan Mills, a Paktya PRT intelligence officer from Chicago, share an alma mater—the United States Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The officers, who say they only knew of each other in school, agree they gained indelible skills from the academy which helped them to rise to meet difficult circumstances during their deployment in eastern Afghanistan.
“The academy taught about leadership during difficult times, how to stay focused and achieve goals in a high-operations tempo,” Johnson said.
“One of the key takeaways from my academy experience was a learned ability to just deal with it,” Reeves added. “Throughout our four years, we were forced into situations that were less than favorable, with absolutely no way out and learned to excel —and quitting isn’t an option.”
Johnson was commissioned in 2005; Reeves in 2008. Both alums received their degrees in civil engineering.
While the Air Force Academy curriculum was strict, one lieutenant said there were some things the school couldn’t teach to fully prepare cadets for war.
“While we were at the academy, we were focused on passing classes, working out and graduation,” Mills said. “No one ever really emphasized that one day we would all be going to war and would lead troops in combat.”
Johnson, Mills and Reeves have applied recently-learned combat skills to lead outside-the-wire missions for the PRT, and into life-saving conditions.
In fact, during their initial transit into Afghanistan, Mills, Reeves and an Army civil affairs first sergeant, were called to respond to a gunshot victim and perform skills learned just weeks before in pre-deployment training.
“We administered a tourniquet and first aid until medical personnel arrived.” Reeves said. “We were later informed that we had literally saved the man’s life. He lost a critical amount of blood and later went on to receive multiple transfusions and surgeries.”
“It was a wild ‘Welcome to Afghanistan’ day,” he added.
While deployed, the company grade officers partnered with members of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in their journey toward developing a safe and secure nation.
The engineers coordinated with the Paktya rural rehabilitation and development director to support Afghan-led development projects. As an intelligence officer, Mills provided recommendations for leadership based on an assessment of the current enemy situation, and updated the PRT’s security forces with current security analysis.