As a historian, Art Sevigny said it's a challenge to get beyond recording the urgent events of a combat unit at war. Not only does he have to record what happened, but he also has to analyze what it might mean to help the military down the road.
"It's not just the gee-whiz history. It's to write something that is usable for commanders in the future," Sevigny said from his post at the base outside Columbia.
Sevigny, 53, earned the Air Combat Command's Excellence in History Programs award. After retiring from the Air Force, he returned as a civilian and has been the 20th Fighter Wing's full-time historian since 2008.
Sevigny said he is barred from saying exactly what operations he wrote about last year because of their top-secret designations, but he documented the fighter wing's participation in some of the key operations involving the unit's F-16 fighter jets.
Elements of the fighter squadron were at Joint Base Balad during mid-2010, and some units participated in guarding the withdrawal of 100,000 American forces from Iraq that year.
SEVIGNY SAID all major Air Force units have a historian assigned, and his award was for work done as a single-person office. It was his first deployment to Iraq.
The Air Force said Sevigny was lauded by Air Force Gen. William Fraser "for having a level of detail and analysis normally found after years of experience." He was also recognized for revitalizing "a history program that suffered from eight months of neglect."
Originally from Pelham, N.H., Sevigny said he has had a long interest in the 20th Fighter Wing, going back to the 1980s when he was deployed with the unit when it was based in England. He began studying the unit and served as a volunteer historian, he said.
ONE OF THE MOST challenging aspects of his job, Sevigny said, is hunting all of the fighter wing's important documents and collecting them. In this digitized age, he said, vital information about military actions and the decisions that drove them can be lost forever with one click of a mouse.
Sevigny said Air Force historians typically write a chronology of events with a short narrative during a deployment, then write a deeper analysis once back home.
"We write something that can point future historians in a direction, if they need to write a further history," he said. The documents he collects are sent to a center for Air Force history at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. There, they are put on microfilm.
"That's our goal. Preserve the documents and tell the story about what happened behind them so future commanders can look back" and learn, he said.
He said he was able to help his commander at Balad establish a timeline for closing the base as U.S. forces began leaving of Iraq. He studied documents written by an Air Force historian who documented the 9th Air Force's move out of a Saudi Arabian base after the first war with Iraq.
"The historian was one of the people on the last plane out," he said.