Utah native fulfills Air Force deployment duty; satisfies career goals

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Utah native Lt. Col. Jay "Chris" Sorensen, former deputy director of the 704th Communications Squadron at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center's (AEDC) in Tullahoma, Tenn., didn't feel his military career would be complete unless he served his time in the war zone.

Marking his 20th year in the service just as he arrived in Baghdad, the colonel had several options but opted for the deployment.

"I could have retired," he said. "But, I could not have retired and felt satisfied with my career if I did not deploy to the war zone at least once."

Colonel Sorensen was deployed to Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, from April 2007-2008. To be exact, it was 366 days in theater the colonel said.

The Air Force is not usually deployed for a year at a time, but Colonel Sorensen says more and more field grade officers are being deployed for the longer tours as opposed to the traditional four-month Air Expeditionary Force cycles.

"There were four or five Air Force personnel who were deployed with me for a year," he said. "I also worked with some Army and Navy personnel."

Colonel Sorensen's main mission at Camp Victory was as the deputy director of the Joint Network Operations Control Center--similar to his job at AEDC, but on a much bigger scale.

His primary focus was to monitor and report on all the communication networks throughout Iraq. He was also involved in all of the engineering and maintenance for all the enterprise systems.

"All the top level networks, the router switches and firewalls we were responsible for," he explained. "These systems were used across the entire country of Iraq, by the Army, and other units, primarily using tactical and satellite systems."

The colonel admits most of his time in Iraq was spent indoors usually away from harms way.

"Most of my job over there was a staff-type job," he said. "I wasn't out kicking down doors or riding convoys. Outside random rocket attacks and stray bullets firing in the air, I was in a fairly safe location."

When asked how Iraq was different then how the media portrays it, the colonel admitted that this wasn't going to be an easy war.

"It's a mess over there right now; there's no doubt about that," he commented.

"These people have been fighting for thousands of years. The borders are arbitrary and trying to put different groups of people into one country creates even more problems."

The colonel explains that even though coalition forces are improving in security, there are still some rebuilding that needs to be done.

He mentioned that in the Baghdad area, the majority of Iraqis only receive electricity 10 hours a day, they have no air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter, no real telephone service, although cell phones are quite popular. They have little running water and no real sewerage and no garbage pick up. "You feel for them," he said.

"I got an appreciation for the innocents over there, which the majority of them are," he said. "There are only a handful of radicals who are causing all the problems."

For anyone who has not been deployed, Colonel Sorensen explains the analogy of the old Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day."

"The days were long but the weeks were quick," he said. "But, we suffered from what we call Groundhog Day syndrome--everyday is the same. We had to create diversions."

A typical duty day was 14-15 hours long, six-and-a-half days a week.

In order to keep from going crazy, the colonel used simple things to remind himself what day it was.

"I would eat soup and ice cream on Wednesdays and Sundays," he explained.

"And, on Friday we would always play a movie on the projector. These things helped us pass the time away and keep track of what day it was."

The colonel jokingly said he might have invented the latest diet craze.

"I lost 28 pounds while I was over there," he said. "I contribute that to the soup and
ice cream diet I stuck to."

Having shortly returned back to work at AEDC, he is now preparing to head off to a new assignment at the end of June to Schriever AFB in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"I will basically be doing the same job as I've done here," he said. "I will be running the networks for the facility there."

The colonel hopes to retire after this assignment, he said, and is looking forward to being within a days drive to his family in Utah.

Colonel Sorensen has a wife and daughter who currently live in Tullahoma, but he also has a son who is in Peru on a church mission, a married daughter with a grandchild that lives in Utah and a daughter who just got out of the Air Force who lives in Nebraska.