Balad Airmen say goodbye to fallen warrior
Staff Sgt. John T. Self lost his life May 14 while on his 79th combat patrol as a fire team leader assisting Iraqis taking back the streets of Baghdad. An improvised explosive device tore through his vehicle killing him and wounding three fellow Airmen on the patrol. Sergeant Self was assigned to Det. 3, 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Camp Liberty, Iraq. (Courtesy photo)
by Master Sgt. Bryan Ripple
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
5/21/2007 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Honored as a leader, brother, teacher and true friend, an Airman killed fighting the war on terrorism was remembered by Airmen of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, both at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and at Camp Liberty near Baghdad May 18.
Staff Sgt. John T. Self lost his life May 14 while on his 79th combat patrol as a fire team leader assisting Iraqis taking back the streets of Baghdad.
An improvised explosive device tore through his vehicle killing him and wounding three fellow Airmen on the patrol. The Airmen were part of a police transition team belonging to Det. 3 of the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron.
Det. 3 is a team of more than 150 Airmen and Soldiers assigned operationally to the 732nd Air Expeditionary Group, who are tasked with performing police transition team duties under the tactical control of the 92nd Military Police Battalion. Their mission is to coach, mentor and train the local Iraqi police in the Rasheed neighborhood of southern Baghdad, an area known to be a hub of anti-Iraqi force enemy activity.
"We're here today to remember a fallen comrade, a friend, a man who laid down his life for others in the pursuit of peace," said Chaplain (Capt.) David DePihno, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain, during the standing-room only memorial service at Balad AB. "Today we thank the Lord for the honorable efforts and friendship of John Self. A man who trusted in his Savior Jesus Christ, a warrior who gave his life in service to his country and for the good of decent Iraqi people, and the advancement of peace in our time."
While assigned to the 314th Security Forces Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., in early 2006, Sergeant Self volunteered to deploy on this one-year tour of duty in Iraq to help train the fledgling Iraqi police force. Prior to submitting his application, his senior enlisted manager, Chief Master Sgt. Keith Morris, wanted to ensure Sergeant Self was aware of the "heat of danger" associated with the deployment.
"Every time a military member comes to the desert, they're in the heat of danger," Sergeant Self wrote. "We're in countries where people don't like us, and they would kill us the first chance they get. Besides, it's my job to be in the heat of danger. Whether it's looking for insurgents, guarding detainees, or sitting on a fence line, it's all dangerous and can result in death. Every time I set foot into a compound, I was risking my life for my country. It is my job to serve my country to the best of my ability and die for it if I must."
When the call for volunteers for this year-long mission went out, the only information they had was they'd be working with the Army training Iraqi Police and it would be dangerous, said Maj. David Harris, commander of Det. 3. More than 300 security forces Airmen worldwide volunteered to fill the roles.
The fact so many Airmen stepped up to the plate to fill this mission was reassuring to Major Harris, but he knew it would take a special type of person to make the mission work.
"We were fortunate to draw some of the best Airmen and NCOs our career field has to offer for this mission," Major Harris said. "They were willing to step out of their comfort zone and tackle challenges unknown to most of their peers. Sergeant Self was probably one of our most extreme cases of that 'special type.'"
Once they arrived in Iraq, their mission lived up to its billing. The stresses of war in Iraq were many. Daily combat patrols through some of the most hotly contested areas in Baghdad, building trust and teamwork with Iraqi police, conducting joint response patrols with Iraqi security forces, and supporting counter-insurgency ground operations were just some of the tasks at hand.
"The complexity of these tasks, along with the associated physical and emotional strain it caused was daunting," Major Harris said. "Even in this environment, Sergeant Self managed to keep his troops focused, motivated and proficient."
"He could always find the humor in anything regardless of the situation," said Senior Airman Daniel Hunsperger, a member of Sergeant Self's fire team. "One time he was posted up on the roof of a police station with Sergeant (Michael) Rodden, and a gunshot rang out from the distance. Sergeant Rodden looked at him and said, 'Did you hear that?' Sergeant Self, with his southern accent responded, 'Yeah, but it was over yonder way a piece.' The blank stares he got from people after those kinds of remarks were priceless to us."
"He believed in everything he did. This was obvious to us after learning he had only spent two weeks home between his last deployment and volunteering for this one," Airman Hunsperger said. "We'll never forget Sergeant Self. No matter what, he is still with us. He is still part of us. Every joke, every laugh, everything he did and stood for will always have a special place in our hearts."
Sergeant Self was 29 years old and a native of Pontotoc, Miss. He joined the Air Force Sept. 2, 1998.
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