By Nicole Minier
CHURUBUSCO — When Adam Neireiter and his fellow airmen arrived in Iraq for their mission last summer — what they found likely looked like a movie scene.
A “strategically crucial” airfield in northern Iraq was left in shambles by ISIS — and Neireiter, along with 28 other airmen in the U.S. Air Force, were called in to pick up the pieces — literally.
Over the past two years, the runway had trenches dug in it, was torn up by an excavator-mounted jackhammer, littered it with large concrete walls and detonated explosives that riddled it with craters.
“It was a complete mess,” Neireiter said. “It was a bigger mess than we expected.”
Neireiter said his crew of 29 airmen had 21 days to fix the runway — despite bombs and rockets exploding in the vicinity.
That’s where the crew made history.
The group had to conduct a reconnaissance mission to repair a runway — the first attempt ever in Iraq.
In a release from the U.S. Air Force, Maj. Jason Stevens of the 1st ECEG said that airmen did their jobs while under the threat of indirect fire from ISIS, such as mortars. As a result, they had to wear full kit and helmets at all times while they worked, Stevens said.
In all, the engineers laid nearly 2 million pounds of cement to repair the mile-long runway, preparing it for a “Hercules” aircraft to land — it total darkness. In order for a Hercules to land, it needs a minimum runway length of about 10 football fields.
Though many would consider the working conditions stressful, it wasn’t Neireiter’s first time in Iraq. He had served tours in 2009-2010, and again in 2010-2011.
“What’s stressful to me is seeing young guys go over and not come back,” Neireiter said.
Though the mission that sent him overseas only took less than a month, he was away from home for more than 200 days.
When he returned, Churubusco was there to greet him. The streets were lined with people holding American flags, and a big sign read, “Welcome home, Adam.”
“I was completely shocked,” Neireiter said. “Many of the people there, I didn’t even know. It’s overwhelming, really. All we did was what we were supposed to do — and everyone was cheering.
“People thank me for my service, and I say, ‘Thank you guys,’” Neireiter said. “I have the easy job. My wife has the hard job — taking care of our child, the house, helping with homework, mowing the lawn.”
Neireiter said he appreciates the help his wife received while he was away.
Before Neireiter was in the Air Force, he served as a U.S. Marine in the 1990s, including a tour in Japan.
“I got out of the Marines because there wasn’t a lot going on at the time,” Neireiter said. “When they downsized, I decided to get out.”
He was a civilian for 11 years before he joined the armed forces again, this time the Air Force.
“I missed that brotherhood — I missed everything about it,” Neireiter said.
He joined the Air Guard out of Fort Wayne. Three tours later, he says he’d probably go again if he’s needed.
“There’s that need to go help people,” Neireiter said.
He said he misses his wife and son, Wyatt, while he’s away, but modern technology has lessened that burden. Now, soldiers can talk with their families via video chat and satellite phones.
“That was probably my best deployment,” Neireiter said.
Now, he is back to the daily grind of his job — construction — where he works building houses in much cooler conditions than the 125 degrees he sometimes faced in Iraq.
“With the white sand over there, it was almost blinding,” Neireiter said.