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Vietnam Veteran Serves in Iraq
Discussion Board on this Respect item
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lee Smith / 506th Aerospace Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (ACCNS) — Master Sgt. Terry Upchurch, of the 506th Operations Support Squadron, deployed here to Kirkuk, has a unique perspective on Iraq, comparing this experience with one he had 35 years ago as an 18-year old airman in Vietnam.
“I had been married only three months,” he said. “I was an air traffic controller, and they told me I was needed. I was very afraid. There were no hardened aircraft shelters for the aircraft, and our enemies were launching rockets at our aircraft. I was fortunate to have survived some of those blasts. Unfortunately, not everyone I was with was as lucky.”
Sergeant Upchurch said that when he stepped off the plane here earlier this year, it took him back all those years.
“My first thought when I looked at Vietnam was ‘Everything is green; the buildings were green, the vehicles in the road were green, the uniforms people were wearing were green,’” he said. “Here my first thought was, ‘Everything is brown: the buildings are brown, the sand is brown, the uniforms are brown.’”
Sergeant Upchurch, after leaving the active duty force in 1974, went into the law enforcement business full time until 1991.
“I decided to return to the service as a member of the Air National Guard in Florida,” he said.
When Sergeant Upchurch heard what was going on in Iraq, he had a feeling that he would be called upon.
“I decided to volunteer because I had my own business, so it would be easier for me to go.” he said. “Besides, one of the others was a school teacher, and leaving would have created a void for the school.”
“I told my wife I had to go, and she understood,” he said.
He noted how different the conditions at ‘Freedom Air Base’ were from those in Vietnam.
“When we first got here, our facility was not meant for people to be in,” he said. “There was E. Coli in the showers, and we couldn’t use them. We had to use bottled water for a while. We ate MREs for two months. In Vietnam, there were barracks for us to sleep in, and showers for us to bathe in, and a chow hall already up when I got there.”
Another difference between then and now was in his experience.
“Then, the NCOs and senior NCOs took me under their wings; now, it’s my turn,” he said. “But here, just like in Vietnam, the teamwork has been great. Everyone understands that there is a job that must be done, and they get it done--no complaining. We just pull together and -(do) whatever needs to be done. From the first-term (airman) with two stripes to the commander, Lt. Col. Brian Jurkovac, we all work well as a team.”
He also said that communication is a big difference between then and now.
“I didn’t have e-mail in Vietnam,” he said. “I could only get word back and forth to (my wife) every 10 days. Today, I can talk to my wife everyday.”
He said the improvements the base has made since he first got here have been unbelievable.
“I am so happy to be eating food off of a paper plate than from a brown bag,” he said. “The dining facility is fantastic. Getting air conditioning was also great. When we first moved into the building, there was no glass in the windows, no running water. The difference from then and now is like night and day.”
Sergeant Upchurch said that everyone he works with is great, even though they often joke with him.
“At the Cantina, people call me ‘Noah,’” he said. “But it’s all good-natured.”