On the front lines of freedom

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 6, 2006

Demopolis native Aliquippa Diane (Jones) Allen has been in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years and seven months. In that time, she has worked her way up the rank ladder and currently holds the title of Chief Enlisted Manager for the 447th Air Expeditionary Group at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

Allen had been in the Air Force for almost thirty years without being having to cross the line into enemy territory, but on January 11, 2006, she was deployed to Sather Air Base, Baghdad International Airport, in Iraq.

“We were upset when we heard she was leaving,” Allen’s brother Jonathan Jones said. “It had been almost 27 years since she was in the Air Force and now she’s over there.”

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But Allen’s family can get some sleep knowing she isn’t in the middle of the of the battle.

“We operate the primary tactical and strategic aerial port in Baghdad in support of operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The group supports regional passenger and cargo movements in the Baghdad Region for 27 coalition partners and over 150,000 military members of the Multi-National Forces – Iraq,” Allen said. “Additionally, we provide support to the New Al Muthana, Iraq Air Force which is commanded by the Vice Commander of the 403rd Wing, Col. Richard S. Haddad.”

Although Allen doesn’t spend her time combating, she said the most difficult part of being in Iraq is being so close in the proximity of insurgents that it’s impossible to forget she is still at war.

And even though most people don’t believe there could be positive moments during wartimes, Allen said she has a few.

“My most rewarding moment thus far was being present at the activation ceremony of the first post-Saddam Hussein era Iraqi Air Force Base, The New Al Muthana. A very close second, would be visiting with Iraqi men and women who come visit our civil military operations center for medical treatment,” Allen said. “I’ve also gotten an aerial view of Baghdad and have visited other military bases. These rewarding moments are followed closely by living with the troops in the same facilities and experiencing the same challenges of which there are many.”

In the midst of more than 35,000 Army troops in five large Army Camps, approximately 700 Sather Air Base residents live in Alaskan shelters with five roommates on average.

“We use portable toilets and have some expeditionary showers,” Allen said. “All of our recreation facilities are very small but are well utilized.”

Allen and her team have survived Iraq’s rainy season which goes from January to March and now must get ready to face dust storms.

Although she didn’t deploy with the rest of Keesler’s team, Allen said men and women from her base in Mississippi have done an “exceptional job” staying in contact with her.

“I’ve received several e-mails and packages that include clothing for distribution to local Iraqi families that are in need. Also, several folks have called my son to ensure he is O.K.,” she said of her only child who is a student at Alabama A&M University.

But her son, husband, and six brothers and sisters don’t have much longer to wait before Allen’s return. She is expected to be back in the states between May 14 and 21.

“I’ve made plans to be in Demopolis for the U. S. Jones reunion in May, and if everything goes as planned, I will meet her there,” Jones, who currently resides in Colorado, said. “After the reunion, she’ll head back to Keesler.”

“This deployment gives me first-hand experience as to our role in this war on terrorism. Much like Hurricane Katrina, you cannot fully comprehend what happened unless you were there,” Allen said. “I look forward to rejoining you all soon. Please keep us in your prayers for our safe return.”