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Mission to Krygyzstan air base takes first shirt around world

FIRST THINGS FIRST -- Master Sgt. Bert Quick, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance first sergeant, Westover ARB, Mass., passes by the Manas Air Base chapel during the course of his daily duties. Sergeant Quick is responsible to the 376th AMXS commander for the care and well being of more than 160 deployed Airmen. -- Air Force photo by Capt. James Bressendorff, 376th AEW Public Affairs

FIRST THINGS FIRST -- Master Sgt. Bert Quick, 376th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance first sergeant, Westover ARB, Mass., passes by the Manas Air Base chapel during the course of his daily duties. Sergeant Quick is responsible to the 376th AMXS commander for the care and well being of more than 160 deployed Airmen. -- Air Force photo by Capt. James Bressendorff, 376th AEW Public Affairs

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass -- Master Sgt. Bert A. Quick is serving an AEF tour almost as far away from home as you can go - without starting to come back again. 

The deployed 439th Operations Support Squadron first sergeant is at Manas AB, in Central Asia’s Kyrgyzstan republic - a part of the world that is the last stop before China. To get there you have to go past Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and land in a valley surrounded by snow capped mountains. The base is named for Manas, a national hero celebrated in an epic poem for uniting 40 Kyrgyz tribes to defeat invaders in the 17th Century. 

Sergeant Quick left Norfolk, Va. in mid-January and flew 22 ½ hours, stopping only long enough to swap out aircrews at Shannon, Ireland; and Incirlik AB, Turkey, before reaching the Kyrgyzstan air base. He is scheduled to serve at least a four-month tour as a maintenance squadron first sergeant at the base. 

“The good news is that I’m responsible for more than 160 men and women. The bad news is that I’m responsible for more than 160 men and women,” he quipped in a long-distance phone conversation. 

The air base is a major transit point for C-17 and KC-135 missions to Afghanistan and other areas in the AOR. Airmen serving at Manas AB have to cope with a wartime ops tempo made tougher by isolated duty at the end of a long supply line. 

That means “take care of your people” is a full-time job for Sergeant Quick and the five other first shirts at Manas AB. 

“It’s an expeditionary environment. There are problems here you don’t normally see at home. Typically it is cabin fever,” the first sergeant said. 

“During the first month you are transiting, learning about the BX tent, medical tent, PERSCO tent. In the second month you are in the game and getting in stride. But by the third month you are typically getting tense, working so close together, so many hours in austere weather…when people work close even with friends, it gets on their nerves,” he said. 

To keep everyone on course takes all the standard issue first sergeant skills, plus something extra. “Preventative medicine” and lots of “management by walking around” helps get people through tough times, Sergeant Quick said. 

“As a first sergeant you have to do a lot of preventive medicine. This place could go bad in a hurry. I don’t want to send anyone home injured in any way, physically or professionally because of a momentary lapse of judgment or temper. My job is to make sure everyone goes home whole like they came here,” he said. 

Sergeant Quick’s phone number is listed in the squadron newsletter with his 24/7 open door policy at both office and dorm. “The cell phone goes off all the time,” he said.
He brings to the job more than a decade of experience as a first sergeant starting with the 439th SFS and then 439th OSS. 

He arrived at Manas AB with other advantages, including a Westover welcome. Waiting to greet him was Col. William E. Baird, former 439th MSG deputy commander, now serving as the Manas mission support group commander. 

Sergeant Quick gives credit to the Westover Personnel Readiness team and Tech. Sgt. Joyce N. Zimmerman of OSS for helping him to arrive with his in-processing paperwork in order. “In-processing on a deployment is time consuming, but it’s a lot easier to deploy squared away,” he said. 

Workdays are 12 hours, but the Manas airmen have a recreation tent with AFN TV, which last month broadcast the Superbowl to them live at 5 a.m. 

During off-duty hours volunteers get involved in community programs, including visits to a local orphanage and a children’s cancer center. Volunteers take candy and toys to children. 

“They love to have their pictures taken. Anything we give them is met with open hands and big smiles ...We try to put back into the community so they get a better image of Americans,” Sergeant Quick said. 

While doing duty on the other side of the world, home remains a focus for Sergeant Quick and the other first sergeants. “There’s very much a sense of urgency. Everyone has to do their job right and that’s everyone, including the guy putting air in your tires….We tell them don’t forget your discipline, salute, take care of your uniform. Above all, go home with honor intact,” Sergeant Quick said. 

“It’s important to do it and get it right,” the first shirt said.