Tuesday, January 5, 2010

188th Deploys to Afghanistan

By Russell Jones, Reporter
January 4, 2010

FORT SMITH, Ark. - Families and friends of local airmen gathered Monday in Fort Smith to wish their loved ones well as they left for Afghanistan.

About 50 members of the 188th Fighter Wing will spend four months overseas, and many of them are leaving behind new families to pray for their safe return.

"It's rough leaving the family, you know, leaving the house to a new mom and a brand-new baby," said Senior Airman Von Hollis. His wife, Senior Airman Jade Hollis, is not deploying with the unit so she can take care of their baby boy, Jonah.

"Before I was just a single guy picking up and moving, now I'm a father and a husband, becoming a little older and a little more responsible," said Tech Sergeant Shawn Thorne.

Like many members of the unit, Thorne got married and had children after the squadron's last deployment. For him and other members of the 188th, this will be their first deployment as spouses or parents.

"It's really tough, really hard," said Thorne while hugging his three children.

This is the first time the 188th will be flying their aircraft, the A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthog", on an overseas mission. The aircraft replaced the 188th's F-16 fighter jets after the base narrowly escaped closure during the BRAC hearings.

Colonel Tom Anderson, the 188th's commander, said the Warthogs will be able to sweep unexplored areas of Afghanistan for improvised explosives, provide aerial intelligence for troops on the ground, and other close-ground support.

"We had prepared long and hard to get ready to do this, and they're all pretty confident that they're going to be able to accomplish their mission," said Col. Anderson.

The 188th will be joined by the 175th A-10 squadron out of Baltimore, Maryland for their mission. Each unit will contribute 10 aircraft to the mission, though Anderson said the amount of troops in Afghanistan from each unit will change during their four-month stay.

"We rainbow, we call it, with the other unit. They will have the majority of the people over there for the first sixty days, then we'll have the majority of the people over there for the second sixty days," he said.

Sergeant Thorne's wife, Sarah, says they're planning to stay in touch over the internet, using email or voice programs like Skype. She expects their time apart will be hardest on their three young children, though they will have some happy memories to hang onto until their father comes home.

"I was just really thankful to have the holidays with him," she said. "We were able to have those moments, especially this Christmas here was (our son's) first where he actually opened his presents."


Related other news media stuff:

188th Headed Overseas

By Jeff Arnold
Southwest Times Record
Tuesday, January 5, 2010 9:57 AM CST

While many people were working their way back into routine after the holidays Monday, about 50 members of the 188th Fighter Wing hit the ground running when they left for a 120-day deployment to Afghanistan.

They deployed ahead of another 250 men and women from the 188th who'll deploy to Afghanistan in mid-March for a 60-day combat rotation.

The 188th and 175th Wing, based in Baltimore, will split responsibilities during operations in Afghanistan, with a majority of airmen from the 175th handling the first 60 days of the mission, and a majority of airmen from the 188th handling the last half of the mission.

The 188th and 175th will provide close-air support for ground troops in Afghanistan.

The airmen who deployed Monday will help provide continuity in operation when a transition from majority 175th airmen to majority 188th airmen happens in March, said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th commander.

The 50 airmen and their families gathered at Ebbings Air National Guard Base Monday as they waited for the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that would take them to Warfield ANG Base in Baltimore, before they depart for Afghanistan.

There was no shortage of tears, hugs, handshakes and nervous smiles as everyone said good-bye.

Becky Hunt of Greenwood was seeing off her son, Tech Sgt. Keelan Hunt, who works in structural maintenance.

Hunt has watched her son leave for combat operations, first in Saudi Arabia, then Iraq and now Afghanistan, and said it doesn't get any easier.

However, Hunt said e-mail, which lets her communicate with him almost daily while he's overseas, makes handling the distance much easier.

Like Keelan Hunt, Tech Sgt. Laura Means, a ground equipment mechanic, is heading overseas for the third time since the "war on terror" began in 2001, and for the third time the single mother will leave her two daughters with family while she's gone.

Although she said she had mixed feelings about her deployment, Means said she isn't concerned about her daughters, Lydia, 10, and Annastazia, 11.

Means said she knows her family will take care of her daughters, and if need be, the 188th will take care of her family.

The girls both used one word to describe their feelings about mom going halfway around the world: "sad."

As Hunt ascended the stairs into the 737, tears streamed down Annastazia's cheeks while she braved the sub-freezing temperatures to watch her mom disappear into the plane.

Airman 1st Class Bobby Polk of Mansfield, who's entering his third year of service at the 188th as a weapons loader, denied having any nerves about the deployment.

"I'm not nervous; I'm just ready to go," Polk said.

Polk's brother, Senior Airman Jeremy Polk, will join him in Afghanistan when he deploys with the remaining members of the 188th scheduled to leave in March. Jeremy Polk is also a weapons loader.

Jeremy Polk said his only anxiety was about completing the out-process requirements before he deploys.

While the brothers showed no nerves, their parents, Ronnie Polk and Debbie Brown, said they would handle being nervous for their sons.

Anderson said when he briefed his departing airmen, he sensed both apprehension and self-assurance in the ranks.

While they are apprehension about leaving their families to travel halfway around the world to a desert, Anderson said they're ready to perform their mission, which they've been preparing for since the 188th was threatened with closure in 2005.

After hugs and kisses were exchanged, the departing airmen began ascending the steps to the 737 a little before 1:30 p.m. and many children's, parents' and spouses' eyes welled with tears.

After the doors to the aircraft closed and the engines revved, two A-10s rolled in front of the 737 on the tarmac and headed for the flight line in advance of a training mission.

At 1:40 p.m., the 737 pulled away from the terminal and four minutes later soared into the air, while family and friends could only walk back toward the terminal, prepared to return for a reunion in May.


March Deployment Foremost On Minds Of 188th Members

By Jeff Arnold
Southwest Times Record
Sunday, January 3, 2010 2:02 PM CST

As the 188th Fighter Wing prepares to deploy to Afghanistan, part-time members of the unit are being asked to show up two to three times more than they would in normal months.

Since August, about 300 members of the 188th scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan participated in Operation Snowbird at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz., and the Green Flag West, close-air support exercise, at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

Since their return from Nellis in late October, part-time members of the 188th have been asked to show up for between 15 and 20 days of training each month until they deploy to Afghanistan in March for about 60 days.

"They're spending extra time away from their families and away from their jobs to prepare to spend more time away from their families and away from their jobs," Lt. Col. Tim "Shaft" Eddins, 184th Fighter Squadron director of operations, said.

Eddins and Lt. Col. Ray "Rain Man" Hunter, 184th Fighter Squadron Commander, are responsible for making sure "everyone is trained and prepared for all aspects of their area of operation," Hunter said.

For the pilots, that means more than just flying an A-10; it means training on first aid, getting in and out of protective suits, encryption of sensitive information and mastering multiple weapon systems and attack operations and more, Hunter said.

For maintenance crews, it's meant working double shifts, overtime, weekends and nights, preparing the planes that will go to Afghanistan, while also keeping the planes used for training fully operational.

For both pilots and maintenance, they've been working on areas of weakness identified in the Davis-Monthan and Nellis exercises, while also working to maintain proficiency in the areas they excelled during those exercises, Eddins said.

"We accept nothing less than perfection. If we hit it (a training exercise) 30 times, and two times we didn't do it perfect, we'll train on that until we get it 30 times in a row perfect," Hunter said.

The months leading up to the 188th's March deployment have been much more hectic than in years past, when the unit enjoyed a long time mastery of the F-16 fighters.

In July 2005, the 188th was faced with a Pentagon recommendation stripping the 188th of its primary mission, pilots and about 700 employees.

A local task force guided by civic leaders appealed the Pentagon recommendation to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which in August 2005 voted to remove the F-16s at the 188th and replace them with the A-10s.

With the 188th receiving its first A-10s in April 2007, and the final two of 21 aircraft arriving the following April, the unit had less than three years to master the aircraft ahead of its Afghan combat mission.

That schedule was interrupted by planes' being out of commission for equipment upgrades and an Air Force-wide temporary grounding of all A-10s while potential structural problems with the wings of some aircraft were resolved.

"This time, we had to build sword and then sharpen it; next time, we'll just be putting a sharp edge on the sword," Hunter said.

Behind the scenes, people like Capt. Kevin Garnett, the 188th installation deployment officer, are keeping just as busy as pilots and crews. Garnett is ultimately responsible for coordinating the movement of troops and equipment to Afghanistan and back.

He must also ensure the unit meets all requirements for deployment to a particular area, which are different depending on the area, and subject to change with little or no notice.

Once the 188th leaves for Afghanistan, work for coordinating the unit's return will begin.

While Garnett coordinates the moves to and back from Afghanistan, he also coordinates the deployment of smaller elements of the 188th across the United States and the globe.

Col. Tom Anderson, 188th commander, is very pleased with the soldiers' response to the unusually busy months, including the back-to-back deployments to Davis-Monthan and Nellis, which required them to give higher priority to the military than their family or civilian job. "They did it without complaint; I was very proud," Anderson said.

Anderson said the employers of Guard members, who've allowed them extra time off for additional training, also are to be commended. "They are as much warriors as the men and women who get the planes ready and those who fly," Anderson said.

Once they return from Afghanistan in mid-May, members of the 188th will get a short time to decompress before returning to routine training.

On paper, it will appear three-quarters of the pilots aren't qualified on their aircraft, even though they'll fly as much in 60 days overseas as they fly during training over the course of a year. Most training requirements can't be satisfied while they're flying combat missions, Eddins said.


Note: Sounds like a regular four-month A-10 OEF combat deployment. According to these U.S. news media sources, an Air National Guard "Rainbow Team" of the 184th Fighter Squadron, 188th Fighter Wing (Arkansas Air National Guard), Fort Smith Regional Airport, Fort Smith, Arkansas (tailcode FS), and of the 104th Fighter Squadron, 175th Wing (Maryland Air National Guard), Martin State Airport Air Guard Station, Baltimore, Maryland (tailcode MD), will share this upcoming deployment. Each unit will contribute 10 aircraft to the mission, 5NEWS/KFSM-TV reported. The 175th Wing will have the majority of the people over there for the first sixty days, then the 188th Fighter Wing will have the majority of the people over there for the second sixty days, 188th Fighter Wing commander Colonel Thomas I. "Tom" Anderson said. This ANG "Rainbow Team" will replace the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron after their six-month OEF combat deployment to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

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