by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
7/10/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — The cool breeze gently lifts a bright red maple leaf off the ground whipping it into the air during an autumn soccer scrimmage in Ontario, Canada … wait a second, rewind. The hot desert wind whips and whirls the sand in every direction as Canadians battle their way from work to home during their deployment at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here, a rotation that occurs every six months.
While this scenario may seem extreme to some, it’s an opportunity many Canadian controllers can’t wait to be a part of. As there are few deployments they can be a part of, Capt. Alexandre Brault jumped at the chance to come here.
“As a controller, I don’t deploy very often,” the 25-year-old French Canadian said, who joined the military at 17 years old, right out of high school. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I knew I had to be here. It’s been an amazing experience for me.”
Brault is the Royal Canadian Air Force 71st Expeditionary Air Control Squadron weapons director deployed from Bagotville, Quebec. The Canadians are currently six-strong here and expect up to eight by the fall.
“We may be a small force, but we’re a strong force,” she said.
In her position, she oversees what the U.S. Air Force calls air battle managers who directly support Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“As an ABM, I control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, aerial refuelers, as well as several different fixed wing airframes all across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility,” Brault said. “We are basically a tactical command and control agency and we help dedicate various air assets to the joint warfighter in order to support our troops and the overall missions in Afghanistan.”
ABMs are primarily responsible for command and control and battle management. Their primary duty is to ensure the day-to-day air mission is executed. These duties depend on the overall military operation. For air-to-air engagement, using either airborne or land-based radars, ABMs ensure combat aircraft find, identify and destroy their targets by providing the pilots with a “big picture” that increases their situational awareness.
“We do air-to-air engagements back home, however, in this theater of operations we perform air-to-ground operations more than anything,” she said.
Brault said working here has been a great challenge for her, but she’s proud of how the Canadians have contributed to the mission. While having other Canadians around was nice, Brault also enjoyed engaging with the Americans.
“It’s been fun working alongside my brothers and sisters from the ‘South,'” she said with a smile. “We work closely with the Americans in NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] back home, so while this was a different mission and a different environment, I loved every bit of it.”
But it wasn’t all business for this controller, as Brault made sure to experience what the local culture had to offer her.
“My favorite experience here overall was the culture,” she said. “It was definitely a shock at first, but the smells and the atmosphere — they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen or felt before. I love going off base and exploring.”
During her tenure at the 379th AEW, Brault was reminded why she signed up to serve in the first place.
“I knew I was going to a university for higher education as a soccer player, but didn’t even think about the military as an option at the time,” she said.
Her first run-in with the military as a career path was when a soccer coach from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, visited a soccer tournament her team was attending. The RMC is to Canadians as the U.S. Air Force Academy or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is to Americans.
“They offered me an education and in return, I was to serve my country,” she said. “So it was a win-win. I decided it would be a great way to give back to Canada and get an education along the way.”
More than eight years later, the first in her family to serve, she’s still here and isn’t looking in the rear view.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”