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Service in Iraq honors brother's sacrifice

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Dilia Ayala
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
June 23, 2007, changed the Nathan family forever.

On that fateful day, Senior Airman Jason Nathan made the ultimate sacrifice when an improvised explosive device detonated and struck his vehicle while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq.

Now, nearly two years later, another member of the Nathan family, Staff Sgt. Joe Nathan Jr., is honoring his military commitment serving as a weapons loader at Joint Base Balad. The Air Force reservist is currently deployed as part of the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Tiger Aircraft Maintenance Unit, from the 482nd Maintenance Squadron at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.

"I'm here to help with the protection of my country, doing my duty and what is being asked of me to serve my country," said Sergeant Nathan. "I wanted to deploy so I could have the experience. Also, I wanted to do my part. I think my brother would be proud of me."

His selflessness and dedication to the Air Force has not gone unnoticed. His superiors appreciate his commitment to the fight.

"Staff Sgt. Nathan was one of the first volunteers for this deployment, despite the tragic events involving his brother," said Chief Master Sgt. Gregg Miller, the AMU superintendent, who is also deployed from Homestead ARB.

Sergeant Nathan's unit told him no one would question him if he didn't volunteer to deploy, but he insisted on joining his load crew in supporting Air Expeditionary Force 7/8.

"I see this as an act of extreme patriotism and as the epitome of the Air Force core value of service before self," said Chief Miller.

"Sergeant Nathan is an outstanding NCO, whose professionalism, integrity, dedication and work ethic is above reproach" the chief said. "He stays busy not only at work but in his off-duty time he is active with physical fitness. He's a respectful individual to everyone around him regardless of their ranks and is referred to as the person with a smile."

Being deployed to Balad has been bitter-sweet for the Macon, Ga., native.

"It was hard for me to come over here right now," said Sergeant Nathan. "Mostly because of my family; it's hard on them, especially hard on my mom because of what happened to my brother.

"I feel proud to be over here because I'm honoring my commitment to the military," he said. "Some days, I think about my brother a lot like when I see the security forces getting ready to go out, and I get to see what my brother was doing. I hear about them going 'outside the wire' and pulling patrols and at times it's hard. I guess as time goes on, it gets a little bit easier. I just pray to God and ask him to help me keep my head up and have faith that everything is going to be alright."

Sergeant Nathan's deployment to Iraq has had a strong impact on his family.

"My mom says she's alright, but I know she's not," he said pensively. "She has my sister and my wife there to give her support. She works everyday so that she can keep her mind occupied. My two younger brothers are growing up and they didn't get to spend that much time with him. They are getting better at sports and he's not here to see them. It's really hard for us like that.

"Also, I have my two kids now," Sergeant Nathan continued. "He met my first son when he was just a baby. However, my son will never know his uncle personally, but I will be able to tell him about him. My family is very proud of me. Even though they don't like it, they understand it's part of my job to deploy."

Sergeant Nathan first joined the Air Force six years ago, serving four years on active duty before becoming a member of the 482nd AMXS. Now, deployed here, he said his goal for this deployment is to further his job knowledge.

As an F-16 weapons loader, Sergeant Nathan is responsible for loading missiles onto the F-16 Fighting Falcon, as well as performing "post-load" inspections on the weapons.

"I want to learn as much as possible about my job," he said. "I want to learn more from my crew and pick up as much experience as I can on the F-16 because I wasn't trained on the F-16. I was trained on the B-1 Lancer. Every day is another opportunity to learn something new. I'm an Air Force reservist, so back home at Homestead, I will learn something and then it will be a whole month before I get to go back and learn some more. Being here, I get more information, and I learn more."

"(Sergeant Nathan) has a very positive and professional attitude as a member of the unit, as well as being stationed here in Iraq where he is learning new aspects of his career field and growing as a young adult," Chief Miller said.

Although, his life has changed and his family will always miss his younger brother, Sergeant Nathan has faith that things will continue to get better for him and his family.

"I'm always a positive person and try not to look at the downside," he said. "I think that everything happens for a reason. No matter what happens, you just have to keep your head up and keep things going, and keep God first.

"I know that my brother was a man of God, and I know that he is in a better place. He served his country to the fullest, and I want to do the same. If he did it, I can do it. I want him to be proud of me just as much as I am proud of him. I'm serving my country. That's what I signed up for." (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)