|By Paula Canning|
CHICOPEE As the American media paints pictures of what's happening in Iraq with in-depth coverage of car bombings, mass explosions, and assassinations, United States Air Force Lt. Colonel Glenn Rattell wants to let those back home know that "there are two sides to every story."
"There are a lot of wonderful things happening over here as we help [the Iraqi people] transition to an Iraqi National Government," said Rattell, who was deployed to Iraq on Aug. 31, and serves as the Deputy Air Base Group Commander for the 506 Air Expeditionary Group (AEG).
According to the Chicopee native, stories about progress and the positive impact of the American military are often overlooked as the media leans toward grasping their audience with sensationalism.
"It's very interesting to us that we have a group of soldiers passing out school supplies [to Iraqi students] but when it's compared to a large firey explosion, which story gets covered?" Rattell asked. "How exciting is the new aircraft hanger for the Iraqi Air Force when someone blew up their car in Baghdad? What's so interesting about us training the Iraqi air traffic controllers to take control of their airfield when someone was assassinated in downtown Kirkuk?"
Rattell also said that, contrary to the belief of many Americans, the Iraqi people appear to welcome the United State military presence.
"The Iraqi people are really nice and friendly. I have not seen an animosity towards Americans since I've been here," he said. "In fact, it appears that the Iraqi citizens want our help before taking over their [own] country full time."
Somewhat "surprised," at the welcoming feeling that he receives during his interaction with the Iraqi people, Rattell said, "I've been in downtown Kirkuk and have never felt threatened by the Iraqis."
Another surprise for Rattell, who was deployed three other times to the Middle East, is how well-developed his current living facilities are in Iraq.
"When I was in Oman and Afghanistan right after the 9/11 [terrorist attacks], we lived in tents, ate MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) and had to walk miles to use a restroom or shower," he said. "Here we live in trailers bunkered with sandbags, have showers and restrooms close by and have a dining facility with hot meals three times a day."
As Deputy Air Base Group Commander, Rattell has a number of responsibilities in helping the 506 AEG to carry out its purposes.
He explained that the mission of the 506 AEG is to provide base operating support integration to the Kirkuk Regional Air Base (KRAB) by coordinating contract support, maintaining and sustaining Air Force facilities, and efficiently managing Air Force mission support area.
He said that this includes the integration of support, not the supply of support, to over 3,000 Army members and 1,000 contractors who use KRAB has a "safe haven" for their regional influence."
In addition, Rattell explained that as the Senior Airfield Authority, the 506 AEG is responsible for the "control, operation, and maintenance of the KRAB airfield," among other responsibilities.
As Rattell helps the 506 AEG to see through its mission in Iraq, the experience has not come without its threats.
Since his deployment, Rattell has had eight rockets attack his base.
"The threat is real, however I sleep well at night knowing that the protection we have in place is the best we can offer to our airmen," he said.
Rattell, who is expected to return home toward the end of January of 2006, said that it has been very difficult spending time away from his wife, Michelle, and two sons, Kyle and Kurtis."
"I really enjoy the [Air Force], but years down the road when my Air Force career ends, I'll still be with my family," he said. "I'm devoted to them for the rest of my life."
He said that his wife, who works in a local emergency room as an EMT and attends nursing school is "the real hero."
He said that both of his sons are active in sports, and that it is especially difficult having to miss their competitions.
"I played soccer, hockey and golf for Chicopee High School, and I remember how important sports are in a kid's development, and I also remember that my parents never missed a game."
Rattell added that he communicates with his wife and children through telephone conversations and emails, and that "I know they support me 100 percent."
Glenn's brother, Chicopee's Aldermanic President Keith Rattell, said that he is always concerned for his brother's safety while over in the Middle East, but is especially concerned about this deployment to Iraq.
"I guess I'm a little bit more concerned this time probably because of how active things are over in [Iraq] at this point in time," Keith said. "But I'm keeping my fingers crossed and saying a prayer evey night for him."
Before Glenn left for Iraq, Keith took a trip out to San Antonio to see his brother and his brother's family.
"It was great to see them," Keith said. "I just wish the trip had been longer."
Keith said that having his brother deployed in Iraq brings a sense of reality and personal connection to the death of Chicopee native Captain John Williams Maloney, who was killed in Iraq this past June.
"When something like [Maloney's death] is mentioned my thoughts always go to my brother in hopes that he'll be fine and return home safely," Keith said.
Keith said that he hopes that everyone remembers that "freedom isn't free, and that people give up a lot to make sure that we are able to do the things we want to do everyday of our lives."
Keith added that it's also important to remember that some, such as Maloney, have given up the ultimate sacrafice for the freedom of the American people.
When asked if he saw any parallels between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War, Glenn explained that the support of the American people for the Iraq War marks for a stark contrast between the two wars.
"I feel that the support of the American people lies totally behind our men and women in uniform for this one," he said.
He explained that the servicemen constantly receive banners and cards from children and caring citizens back home.
When he was in Oman, he received cards from his nieces from the St. Joan of Arc-St. George School in Chicopee, he added.
From Glenn's perspective, the question of how long the United States will continue its military presence in Iraq is one that remains unanswered.
"On a large scale, that's up to the president of Iraq, with the support of the president of the United States," he said. "President [George W.] Bush did say that we will be here until the job is done and I think the service members have agreed with that."
He added that progress in Iraq is ongoing and encouraging.
He said the Iraqis are currently building a new hanger for the Iraqi Air Force, and that the 506 AEG has started training Iraqi Firefighters and Air Traffic Controllers.
"Everyday we see that the Iraqis are picking up more and more responsibility for what happens here," he said. "We fully plan to transition this air base back to the Iraqis when the time is right."