Female air advisor carries on family tradition of service

KABUL, Afghanistan — Before Captain Anastasia Wasem goes to work in the morning, she puts on body armor, straps on her M9 pistol and slings her M4 rifle. She carries 180 extra rounds of 5.56 ammo, 45 extra rounds of 9mm ammo and a first aid kit on her vest.
In her backpack, she carries a laptop computer, a folio, ballistic glasses, a voice recorder and Dramamine. All this gear weighs 72 pounds, which is more than half her body weight.
She’s required to wear this to go from the coalition side of base, where she lives, to the Afghan side of base, where she works.
Wasem, the chief of public affairs at the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, is an air advisor. Her job is to train and advise the Afghan Air Force on how to conduct public affairs.
“Advising is not easy,” said Wasem, whose Afghan counterpart is Lt. Col. Mohammad Behadur, the AAF director of public affairs. “It’s very challenging. But I love working with the Afghans, and this job allows me to feel like I’m making a difference.”
Wasem has been working with Behadur and his five-person staff, which she has nicknamed “the A-Team,” on basic public affairs capabilities and how to organize media events. She recently helped them facilitate media coverage at an event for International Women’s Day, which celebrated the role of women in the AAF.
“There are significant cultural differences, but I feel like we’ve been able to make progress,” she said. “In the Afghan culture it’s important to develop a personal rapport with someone before you can talk about anything work or business related, so I’ve been trying to meet with them regularly to develop that relationship.”
In preparation for this deployment, Wasem attended a 28-day course at the Air Advisor Academy at Fort Dix, New Jersery, where she was trained in cultural awareness, language, hand-to-hand-combat, weapons, convoys, IED recognition and defensive driving.
“The Academy instructors were great, but it’s still a challenging job to prepare for,” she said.
Wasem is deployed from Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, where she serves as deputy chief of public affairs at the 27th Special Operations Wing. She commissioned in 2008 from the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Washington, Seattle.
As the daughter of two Air Force officers, Wasem has always been close to the military. Her parents, Vaughn and Marcia Wasem, both retired as lieutenant colonels.
Her father was an enlisted Chinese linguist, then became a B-52 navigator and transportation officer. Her mother, a supply officer, was in the first class of the University of Idaho ROTC program to commission a female officer.
Wasem’s grandfather, Don Hart, was a P-47 and P-51 fighter pilot based at Duxford, England, during World War II. After the war ended he stayed in the reserves and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
“I always adored my grandfather growing up and wish I had talked to him more about what he did in World War II and the Air Force before he died,” she said. “If I could have one day over again, I would want to talk to my grandfather. I was so close to him, but I never asked him about the war. Everything I know about his military experience I know from my parents.”
Both of her great-grandfathers on her mother’s side served in the military during World War I.
One great-grandfather was an enlisted mechanic. The other was an Army infantryman who fought in the trenches in France.
Wasem said her family’s tradition of service inspired her to join the Air Force.
“It wasn’t even a question,” she said. “I always knew I would join the military. It’s the best opportunity there is to be able to see the world and make a difference.”