Double Life

Soap and toothpaste are just as necessary as bullets in fighting the war on global terrorism, so Trish Rose travels from Whidbey Island to ensure supplies arrive where they’re needed.

You see, Rose leads a double professional life.

When not serving as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves she’s the Marketing and Community Relations Coordinator at Whidbey General Hospital.

In many ways it is the same type of work: logistical.

“Yes, I’m a geek. I love logistics,” she said, with a rueful smile, in her office at the hospital, while she checked her incoming local and military e-mail.

“It’s not glamorous work like a pilot, but I believe a nation’s power is in the ability to mobilize its resources. I like getting it there,” she said.

The “it” can be anything from supplies for disaster relief to medical evacuation to filling a request from the White House.

Rose flies out at least once a month to work at the military’s Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. It is the command center for planning and directing Air Force airlifts, which often tie into Navy sealifts, Army surface transportation or private commercial carriers to deliver cargo to its final destination.

“There is one departure every two minutes every day, 365 days a year,” she said.

Many commercial airline pilots are reservists, flying C-5s and C17s around the globe for the military.

The cargo can sometimes be surprising when pilots show up for duty, she said. For instance, when a Russian submarine got stuck underwater, an international rescue effort was mounted. An American pilot was sent to pick up a submersible rescue unit and fly it to Russia.

But it’s no use airlifting equipment if it can’t be offloaded and delivered, so equipment to unload the submersible was flown to Russia from Japan, she said.

This type of global reach, delivering everything from tanks to toilet paper, involves detailed planning and follow-up along the delivery route.

“Going to remote parts of the globe is a necessary part of these missions,” Rose said.

“Operation Deep Freeze” involves airlifting supplies to scientists in Antarctica. Flying vast distances involves mid-air refueling, which the control center in Illinois also coordinates.

Global travel requires getting permission to enter the air space of foreign nations.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the number of diplomatic clearances requested has increased from 2,900 per month to 17,000 per month, she said.

Some nations limit the type of cargo transported. Turkey was reluctant to allow any transport to aid the war effort. Turkey is now a shipping hub for Iraq, but no ammunition or weapons are permitted.

Wherever troops are deployed, their supply needs must be met.

The military operates the equivalent of big box stores at various locations in the U.S. Commanders send their shopping lists, which are filled and then the command center figures out delivery.

“We have to get the stuff to them so they can stay strong and safe,” she said.

Diverse cargo requires special handling. The “big and ugly” cargo, armored vehicles and hazardous materials are packed carefully to not bounce around in a military cargo plane. Groceries and medical supplies might go part-way in a Boeing 747, but those planes have no defensive systems and can’t go near a military zone, she said.

Military brass say reservists are playing a vital role in national security, augmenting resources that are stretched thin as the war on global terrorism continues into a fifth year.

And, as all reservists know, Rose wouldn’t be able to play a role without the support of her employer.

Scott Rhine, the hospital’s CEO, said the hospital supports reservists in their endeavors.

“We are proud to be American and we appreciate those in our country who are willing to contribute their time and their energy,” he said.

He recalled a somber moment following the 9/11 attacks when a flag pole was erected and dedicated. Reservists who are attached to various branches of the military and work at the hospital were invited to lead the ceremony in their military uniforms.

Rose has traveled a long way from her home town in Swansea, Mass. She joined the Air Force in 1984 to gain an education and see the world.

“The military has been very good to me. I’ve met some wonderful people,” she said.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1983, she took an aircraft maintenance officer’s course. In more than eight years of active duty in the Air Force, she rose through the ranks, gained advanced military training and earned a Master’s degree. Immediately after leaving active duty in 1992, she joined the Reserves.

Serving separate roles in military and civilian circles suits Rose just fine.

“I love both of my jobs. I’m very lucky,” she said.

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