AFRL officer finds deployment a life-changing experience

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Capt. Jacob "Jake" English is an impressive officer on many accounts. Late last year he returned from a six-month volunteer deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan.

English returned from deployment to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland,  where he has served since April 2012 with both the Directed Energy and Space Vehicles directorates.

English said he volunteered for the assignment to get a better perspective on the role that the military plays in a deployed situation.

"I wanted the opportunity to learn things that I would not likely learn in other environments.  I have been associated with the military since I joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps on Sept . 11, 2002, and I had not yet deployed in defense of the freedoms that I joined the military to protect," he said.

While in Afghanistan, English was the ground wheeled vehicles commodity manager where he was in charge of purchasing thousands of ground wheeled vehicles like motorcycles, Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected fighting vehicles, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and backhoes for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

"There were many times that I went on convoys outside the green zone, and I realized that I was dependent on God to protect me and my team. I also relied on my teammates and their training to make sure that we all made it back in one piece," English said.

At times his unit traveled "outside the wire," or outside the security of the base, in up-armored sport utility vehicles.

"The SUVs were strong enough to provide protection from small arms fire, but they would not survive direct impact with vehicle borne improvised explosive devices. This meant that we had to be on the lookout for IEDs while we traveled and did everything in our power to mitigate the chances of finding them," he said.

"When prepping to go outside the wire, everyone would put on their game face and make sure all their gear was ready to go, that they knew the routes and were as ready as possible.  My boss was an U. S. Army major who was a ranger, so he would check my gear to ensure that I had the best chances of being successful if something went down. I took a driving course before my deployment, so I drove on all but two of my convoys."

There were a higher number of vehicle-borne IEDs, or car bombs, in Afghanistan in the summer of 2015 while English was there than in years past, due to a change in Taliban leadership.

"Whenever I would hear an explosion, I would wonder if everyone was okay, how far away it was from us and how big it was," English said. "It was stressful knowing that people were being blown up and that there was nothing I could do about it.  There were times when we had to take our body armor to our rooms at night so that it was available if we needed it.  There were also nights when I fell asleep listening to small arms fire outside the base."

English said he used to like action movies, but now finds he no longer likes to hear explosions--he heard enough in Afghanistan to last a lifetime.

"I worked with a lot of wonderful Afghans and I am glad that their lives are much better because of the commitment that the U. S. and our coalition partners have shown to Afghanistan.  My hope is that the Afghans will be able to build a stable country where they can raise their children in peace," he said.

He found the morale in Afghanistan was better than at some of his previous assignments. English said, in general, people were glad to have the opportunity to serve and were glad to be in a unit with a big impact and a high ops tempo.

Growing up in Illinois as the fourth oldest among 11 children, English speaks of taking his younger brothers and sisters under his protective and guiding wing which has carried on to his own family--his wife, daughter and two sons.

"My biggest challenge while deployed was being separated from my family," he said. "Skype, morale calls, and emails made it a lot easier to overcome the distance. The support that my family got from friends in Albuquerque also helped a lot. I was very impressed by how well Sariah handled all the challenges while I was gone. She really showed that she is a true patriot of our county and that she can handle anything that comes her way."

English has some words of wisdom to others getting ready for a deployment.

"Prepare mentally and physically for your deployment so that you will be better able to handle stressors that come your way.  Take advantage of the morale opportunities.  Find your happy place and go there as often as possible," he advised.  "I enjoyed attending church, teaching bible study, learning about Islam and the local customs, and learning from the vendors at the different shops.  I spent the Fourth of July learning a new card game with the shop owners and vendors.  It was a fun way for me to celebrate our nation's independence and build friendships with those who are seeking freedom in their own country."

Up next for English is an assignment to the Pentagon where he will work in the Secretary of the Air Force Comptroller office. 

"I will find out the results of my Major's board soon and expect that I will have many more opportunities to contribute to the Air Force mission."