By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Larry Schneck
U.S. Air Forces Central
BAGHDAD, April 5, 2011 - Air Force Staff Sgt. Carla Washington has more than enough room at Sather Air Base here to stretch her legs, with 16-million square feet of flightline to patrol and 760 lights to check daily.
"I have to drive around the entire flightline three or four times during my 12-hour shift," said Washington, who serves with the 447th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron as the airfield's operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
"I come out here more often," she added, "if it's raining, a pilot reports debris on the airfield or if there are birds or other animals near the runway."
Part of Washington's job, she said, is to make sure the landing, take-off and taxiways are clear of debris. Foreign objects can cause damage to aircraft and jeopardize the lives of aircrews.
One of the most dangerous situations comes from birds, the Dothan, Ala., native said.
"I conduct bird aircraft strike hazard checks," said Washington, who deployed to Iraq from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. "These [checks] make sure crews have a safe airfield by scaring birds away, or removing them from the flightline and out of the path of the planes."
Washington has removed some large objects from the flightline, she said, including debris like large metal cans and construction hand tools. Such items, she said, could cause an aircraft mishap if they're ingested into an engine.
Washington is on her third deployment to Iraq. In 2005 she served at Kirkuk Regional Air Base and at Ali Air Base in 2009. With eight years of military service, she is carrying on a family tradition.
"I have two uncles and a cousin who did 20-year military careers," she said. "The one who influenced me the most was my cousin who retired from the U.S. Army. He told me the good and the bad about military life and ultimately is the one who advised me to join the Air Force, if I decided to join."
Washington said the initial reason she enlisted was to get money to pay for college. However, over time, her motivation for continuing to serve has changed, she said.
"I love what the military stands for," Washington said. "I love the job I do, and the many ways I contribute to helping others while deployed in Iraq and at home at Shaw."
Once a month, Washington volunteers to visit with impoverished Iraqi families to distribute shoes, clothes and candy.
"They want the same thing as we do for our families," she said. "They want to provide for them and live in a safe environment. It's worth it to see the smiling faces."
Meanwhile, Washington continues her daily trips around the flightline, keeping it open and secure for medical evacuation missions, contingency operations and delivery of supplies in support of Operation New Dawn.
"Washington brings continuity, consistency and professionalism to our team," said Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Macumber, the deputy airfield manager, who's a member of the New York Air National Guard, deployed from Hancock Field, Syracuse, N.Y.
"The mission always flows smoothly, safely and efficiently when she's on duty," Macumber said.