Air Force major discusses Iraq, Afghanistan at Chamber meeting
At Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College, Air Force Maj. Athanasia Austin studies the ins and outs of the strategies formulated at the highest levels of the U. S. military.
But along with that technical knowledge, Austin is also expected to learn how to simply talk with people who aren’t in the military.
“People don’t get the training to really be able to speak about what we do very early in their careers,” Austin said. “So I think that the Army and the Air Force are trying to push that a little bit earlier.”
Austin spoke at the Basehor Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting Thursday as part of that learning process. One requirement of her coursework at the college is to speak at community events.
“It’s important for us to establish those relationships and be able to speak each others’ language,” she said.
Austin, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke about her education at Fort Leavenworth and answered questions about subjects ranging from the differences between the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and how she takes care of herself when she returns from deployment.
At CGSC, Austin learns about America’s role in the world and the changing strategies employed by the Department of Defense to fit that role — including the rise of counterinsurgency, a tactic that has largely replaced traditional combat operations in the military’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.
Austin said those efforts, which take place in more complex environments than past military campaigns, require a new level of understanding.
“We’re going to have to go in and actually help the community a lot more than just what we’re used to doing,” Austin said, “which is, in the Air Force’s case, dropping bombs or delivering cargo, delivering troops.”
In Iraq, Austin said, that strategy has proved successful, and American troops there have shifted into an advisory role for Iraqi forces. But Afghanistan presents different challenges, she said.
“People who compare the two have to understand that Iraq was a functioning society with an amazing infrastructure,” she said. “They had a lot of wealth because of their oil, and Afghanistan is almost exactly the opposite. They’re very, very different wars.”
Austin said she would probably be deployed to Afghanistan within the next year, and she made sure to enjoy the comforts of stateside life while she could.
“I never take a hot shower for granted,” she said, “or my bed, or my puppy, or any of that.”
To close her talk, Austin asked the Chamber members to spread the word about Survivor Outreach Services, a military program that offers ongoing support to families of service members who have died.
“We really want to be here for them the rest of their lives,” Austin said.
After Austin spoke, Derald Linn, executive director of the United Way of Leavenworth County, gave a presentation promoting the 2010 pledge drive. The Leavenworth County United Way joined the Basehor Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.
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