Friday, September 03, 2010

TOP STORY > >Sergeant: Duty tough, home sweet

Leader staff writer

Tech Sgt. Matthew Palmer was one of 166 airmen who returned home this week to Little Rock Air Force Base. They were greeted with hugs from their loved ones after a deployment to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Palmer arrived Monday, stepping from a C-130 into arims of his wife, Kason. They’ve been married for two years and live near Ward. He has been stationed at LRAFB since 2008.

“That was really nice and cool to have everybody come to the plane, instead of being processed in the hangar,” Palmer said.
Palmer said this was his most difficult deployment, having been away for four months.

“We did have Internet access and were able to use e-mail and instant messaging to keep in touch. That made it much more bearable. It was still pretty rough for me,” he said.

Palmer is a load master with the 41st Airlift Squadron of the 19th Airlift Wing. He was stationed at a NATO base in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It was his first deployment to the country supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

In Afghanistan, the crews made air drops to the forward operating bases. Palmer said the loads included Humvees, generators and soldiers, as well as air medical evacuations.

C-130s delivered food, water and other supplies to smaller operating bases when it was too dangerous for convoys on the ground.

Missions were flown day and night and over mountainous terrain. Some landings were on dirt.

Afghanistan’s hot and dry desert made an impression on Palmer. It was not sandy, but a fine talcum-powder dust.

“Everything kicks it up. It hangs around and is like a haze in the air. You can’t distinguish a horizon line,” he said.

Palmer has been in the Air Force for 10 years, three of those years as a load master. Palmer was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas. He did not grow up in a military family; his parents worked in the medical field.

He graduated high school in 1999 and then attended college for three semesters. Palmer wanted to be out on his own. He chose to join the Air Force in 2000 because it provided the best opportunities for him.

“The Air Force would take care of a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t have to worry about losing a job, being homeless or paying for medical insurance and you get to see the world,” Palmer said.

Palmer began his Air Force career as an aircraft-armament-system specialist for F-15C and E models.

He loaded missiles and bombs on the fighters and maintained the weapon-release systems on the planes.

He said it was a tough job. He worked on the F-15s electrical in all types of weather with temperatures of 40 below zero in Alaska to 130 degrees at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

In 2007, Palmer changed career paths from working with fighters to being a load master on cargo planes. He said the weapons field was not for him. Palmer said he applied for every enlisted flying job. His top choices were a load master, a flight engineer and a boom operator for aerial fueling on KC-10s and KC-135s.

“When my cross training was approved, that was the happiest day of my life. I wanted to fly on airplanes. I’ve always loved flying. I flew between Mom’s house in Boise (Idaho) and Dad’s house in Amarillo about twice a year,” Palmer said.

He recalled a moment that influenced his decision to change his job in the Air Force.

“I was on a flight with 60 people on a C-130. I remember the load master as the most comfortable guy on the entire flight at the back of the plane,” he said.

Palmer loves his job and says it is good to be an enlisted aviator because he is treated well and his work is appreciated.