LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. –
When Staff Sgt. Nicholas Alessi, 1st Civil Engineer Squadron, decided to join the Air Force, he wanted to make a difference. After eight years in the service and a six-month deployment to Iraq, there's no doubt he has done just that.
Sergeant Alessi is just one of hundreds of Langley Airmen who have, are and continue to deploy in support of the Global War on Terror.
Last November, he left for a four-week combat skills training course at Fort Sill, Okla., before heading to the Middle East. He was part of a 60-man team, 27 of who were from Langley. These members of the 1st CES were going to support the Army in Iraq. They arrived on Christmas Eve 2006.
They immediately began their work as a facility maintenance team, splitting their time between working at camps in Taji and Tikrit. They did everything from repairing buildings to building defensive fighting positions off the camp and upgrading force protection capabilities. Their role was vital in ensuring servicemembers not only had resources and barriers to protect themselves and the camp, but that they also had a place to sleep.
Bedding down a 2,200-person Army Stryker Brigade was one of their biggest accomplishments.
"I'm not in the most glamourous career field, but what we do is very important," Sergeant Alessi said. "We build runways, give people running water and provide a place to sleep. Our goal is to make it possible for you (Airmen) to do your job," he said.
Their team also built eight tactical operation centers by renovating buildings previously used and owned by the Iraqi Republic Guard Base.
Sergeant Alessi said his eyes were opened after he witnessed the work they were doing and the smiles and reactions from the Iraqi people.
"I learned things are not always as they seem. The only thing you see on TV is soldiers dying. We saw changes being made and it was frustrating to see what the media was reporting. I didn't see what the news said or thought I saw," he said.
In order to ensure the lessons they learned were shared with others, Sergeant Alessi was one of several Airmen who told their deployment story to all of Air Combat Command Mission Support Group commanders at a recent conference.
"I was honestly in awe," said, Col. Brian Yolitz, 1st Mission Support Group commander. "Each story was incredible. It continues to amaze me the challenges our Airmen face day-in and day-out and overcome. There are so many stories of bravery and Airmen having an incredibly positive impact on operations that seem to go untold. We need more Airmen sharing their experiences, telling the Air Force story and preparing fellow Airmen for work in the (area of responsibility)," he added.
At the end of the day, Sergeant Alessi does have a story to tell, and so do the 38,000 Airmen who are currently deployed around the globe protecting our nation and her interests.
For Sergeant Alessi, who was also trained as a convoy gunner and worked along side the Army, it was the opportunity to really make a positive difference in Iraq.
"It was a neat experience, and the biggest thing I learned is that I can," he said. "The Air Force does a lot more than some people think. We are involved in this war."