April 19, 2004 – The war on terrorism can make for some strange bedfellows: Just ask the son of St. Thomas resident David Lawrence as he serves his country from behind the old Iron Curtain among Soviet relics like rusted bombers, missile launchers converted into fire trucks and tarnished statues of Vladimir Lenin.
Air Force Senior Airman Davidson C. Lawrence is deployed to a former Soviet bomber base in Bishkek to help fuel the world's war on terrorism as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specialist for the 376th Expeditionary Airlift Wing at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, supporting the work of 40 coalition nations in Afghanistan.
"Our job is to try to ensure good living and working conditions for all who come here," said the 2000 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School. "We try to keep the temperatures as comfortable as possible in people's living and working areas."
Lawrence and other members of the 376th Expeditionary Airlift Wing are the prime suppliers of refueling and cargo flights used to support the full range of operations against terrorism and the U.S. military's routine presence in the mostly Islamic Asian 'stan nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"My job is very important to the overall mission. We ensure the food and supplies are kept cool when they need to be cool and hot when they need to be hot," he said. "We keep the food hot so the troops can have good meals and we keep the tents heated, so they can have a nice warm place to sleep."
While the war on terrorism is the primary reason members of the 376th are here, they don't often turn down an opportunity to make new friends with the locals. Military members are restricted to the base because the terrorist threat level is high, but occasionally go into surrounding communities to do humanitarian projects — once building a playground at a children's tuberculosis research institute — to show that Americans aren't quite the menace they're sometimes made out to be.
Lawrence's bunk, belongings and footlocker are in a tent 300 miles west of China, 1,100 miles north of Afghanistan and 30 miles from a new Russian air base that opened up after he arrived. Most people here find the camp to be typical of Soviet style — impersonal, yet sturdy enough to survive the harsh elements and just enough to get the job done.
"We live in tents here and while we're missing many of the comforts of home, we're getting by," he said. "The local people are very nice and their culture is quite interesting. The snowcapped mountains are huge, but I don't like snow."
While the war on terrorism brought Lawrence to a place he'd never have dreamt of being just a few years ago, he understands the importance of the mission to build new friendships in this part of the world and to help protect the U.S. from behind the old Iron Curtain.
Editor's note: John B. Dendy IV provided this article through the Army and Air Force Hometown News agency.
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