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Feature Story

Boeing logistics expert Robert Gastelum

Donnald Porter/Boeing

Boeing logistics expert Robert Gastelum, who supplied parts to U.S. Army Apache helicopters in Iraq, stands in front of a protective wall at a base north of Baghdad. The American flag was placed over the wall during a visit by several U.S. governors last year.

Heeding the call

Boeing Logistics Element Manager Rob Nava

Dave Lyons/Boeing

Boeing Logistics Element Manager Rob Nava provided software updates to maintainers of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets deployed in Afghanistan. In this photo, Nava waits for software to load onto a computer.

When Boeing logistics experts Dave Lyons and Rob Nava were asked to go to war-torn Afghanistan to support U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets, they didn’t hesitate.

Based in St. Louis, Lyons and Nava were eager to provide the latest software updates to maintainers of the Boeing-built aircraft. And as retired military personnel, going where help is needed, even to dangerous places, “comes naturally,” Lyons said.

“They asked us, but it was a no-brainer,” Nava said. “It wasn’t like I needed to think about it. Our nation’s airmen need the latest technology so they can carry out their missions, and it was our duty and an honor to deliver it to them.”

Since U.S.-led wars began in Afghanistan nine years ago and Iraq seven years ago, more than 600 Boeing employees have traveled to the two countries to support American and allied warfighters and their equipment. For Nava, it was his second trip to Afghanistan in three years.

Like many Boeing employees helping deployed U.S. troops, Lyons and Nava were in harm’s way. During their six-week stay at Bagram Airfield in northern Afghanistan, two separate enemy mortar attacks occurred with almost no warning. But they tried to put those risks out of their minds and concentrate on their work.

Boeing software engineer Dave Lyons

Rob Nava/Boeing

Boeing software engineer Dave Lyons displays the body armor he wore while venturing outside during his recent assignment in Afghanistan.

“You try to go on about your business and just hope for the best,” Nava said.

Boeing logistics specialists Jason Baker and Robert Gastelum, both of Mesa, Ariz., went to separate Army bases in Iraq to supply parts for U.S. Army Apache helicopters. Baker spent more than six months in southern Iraq, while Gastelum’s stint north of Baghdad exceeded a year. They labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and endured random mortar attacks and extreme dust and heat to ensure all requests for parts were satisfied.

“It’s very gratifying to know I had a role in keeping those vital aircraft in service for our nation’s warfighters,” Baker said. “The harsh conditions were just part of the experience.”

Gastelum almost felt like a doctor on call.

“Occasionally, soldiers knock on your door to wake you up in the middle of the night because an aircraft is out of service due to a broken part,” Gastelum said. “You do what you have to do to get those helicopters back in the air so our troops can conduct their important missions.”

The Bagram Airfield sign

Dave Lyons/Boeing

This Bagram Airfield sign marks the transition from one section of the base to another.

Despite the focus on work, Boeing employees in war zones occasionally enjoy light moments. Lyons and Nava chuckled when recalling a mouse who hung around their tent and who boldly ran across Lyons’ chest as he read a book at the end of a long day. The mouse, whom they named “Timmy,” also snatched an energy bar out of Nava’s Velcroed pockets while the two men slept.

“I’m still not sure how he pulled that one off,” Nava said.