By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
Decades ago Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” aired a TV episode where a man woke up and discovered an atomic war had broken out and somehow, he was the only person left on earth.
Like many of Serling’s creations, that episode gave it’s viewers a strange, haunting, weird feeling.
Less than two months ago Staff Sgt. Chris Colleran, son of Tim and Cindy Colleran of Caledonia, experienced similar feelings. The 2004 graduate of Caledonia Area High School was on the last flight out of Iraq, signifying the end of the decade-long war.
“Yes, it was a very weird feeling, being one of the last U.S. military personnel out of Iraq,” the Air Force sergeant said last week from his home near Pensacola, Fla. “I was one of about 20 to 40 Air Force personnel and there were a few Army personnel too. We all fit in one plane.”
Colleran, who has been in the Air Force since graduating from high school, serves as an air traffic controller. He was deployed to the Ali Air Base located near Nasiriyah, Iraq this past August. During the nearly five months “in country,” Colleran watched as the massive U.S. pull out took place.
“When I first got there, our main focus was training the Iraqis to be air traffic controllers,” Colleran recalled. “The main criteria for being an Iraqi traffic controller was if you could speak English. English is the international language used with aeronautics.
“About a month after we got there, the base started packing things up,” Colleran continued. “The post office closed in October and most of the stores closed the beginning of November. The chow hall, where we ate all our meals, closed on Nov. 20. So we had to eat military ready to eat (MRE) meals for more than a month, until we left two days before Christmas.
“By the time we left, there were very few military personnel still on base,” Colleran noted. “There were six of us traffic controllers. We had to remain there to help get all the cargo planes off the ground. And there were some security forces, firemen and troops who helped load the planes.”
One of the misconceptions of many Americans about what was going on in Iraq during the final days was that everything was secure. Colleran said rocket attacks at the air base occurred nearly every night.
“I worked a lot of nights. We had fighter planes in the sky at night, trying to prevent the attacks. But there were many nights when we’d have to get down out of the control tower and head for the bunkers.”
Cindy Colleran’s son told her that during the last weeks in Iraq, Chris and his controller partner had to walk the nearly two miles from their protected barracks to the control tower, as all of the vehicles had been shipped out. Iraqi insurgents had been making it a common practice to infiltrate the air base and attempt to kidnap U.S. military personnel.
“I worried every night until I knew he was out of there,” Cindy said.
When the day finally arrived for the last of the U.S. military presence to leave Iraq, Colleran and his fellow comrades in arms boarded the plane and took off under the protection of the final Army troops. Those troops, loaded in Humvees, made the three-hour trip from the air base to Kuwait without any incident.
“Getting back at Christmas was great,” Colleran said. His wife Morgan, who was also a 2004 Caledonia graduate, and their two children, Abigail (2 1/2) and Mason (1) provided quite a reception. “My deployment was supposed to be for six months. It was cut short, due to the end of the war. That was fine with me.”
Chris isn’t the only one in the family who is in the Air Force. His wife Morgan (Olson) is also in the Air Force and like her husband, she holds the rank of staff sergeant. The daughter of Tim Olson of Loyal, Wis. and Rita Kellogg of Reedstown, Wis. is involved with bio-environmental engineering for Uncle Sam.
Chris and Morgan are now both stationed at Hurlburt Field near Pensacola.
Chris said right now his plans are to remain in the Air Force for 20 years. His current hitch runs through 2015. He said his wife has a year left in her current hitch and feels she will probably not re-up, but instead finish school and get into a medical career.
When asked if he thinks there’s a chance he could get deployed to Afghanistan, he replied, “There’s always that chance.”
With the current time frame to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Chris Colleran might get deployed just in time to be the last man out of that war as well.