Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Family Reunites After Deployment

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2010 9:40 am | Updated: 9:44 am, Mon May 24, 2010
By Wanda Freeman
The Times Record

Keeping busy and communicating daily helped Ashley Ahlert get through her pilot husband's three-month deployment to Afghanistan, but she held on to one surprise until his homecoming last week.

Her husband, Maj. Brian Ahlert - a pilot with the Air National Guard's 188th Fighter Wing - spent the past three months flying daily in the unit's first mission employing the A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs."

The couple have a 19-month-old son, Ben, and Ashley, 28, is expecting a daughter soon.

"I'm due any day, probably next weekend," she said Friday.

Although she e-mailed pictures of Ben to her husband every day - "He's at such a crucial age, when every day he has growth spurts" - she didn't let on that she was preparing the new baby's room.

"We had lots of projects. We built a pond, and I got the nursery all ready. I didn't tell him about the nursery or send him pictures because I wanted to surprise him," she said.

"Yeah, she did all kinds of things to the house," Brian said. "Everything looks great."

Ashley also continued to work full-time as an agent with Bradford & Udouj Real Estate.

"It was a challenge, because I was essentially a single mom with a full-time job, but if I hadn't done that I would've just stayed home and been sad and depressed," she said.

The upside was that whenever she had to show a house in the evening, Ben got to bond with his grandparents.

Both Ashley's and Brian's parents live in Fort Smith.

Ashley also regularly took Ben to her parents' lake place at Mount Harbor and on other trips around the state to see family members - and "to get one more weekend out of the way."

Brian's deployment began in mid-February, a month before most of the other airmen deployed.

Both Ashley and her husband appreciated the benefits of Skype, an online video-call service that allowed them to have virtual dinner together.

"It was hard to get Ben to sit in front of the computer," Ashley said. "He'd pull the screen down and try to look behind it, like he was trying to figure out where his dad was. So then we Skyped during dinner. I'd put the computer in front of him and Brian could watch him eat and Ben was able to show him how he can use his fork and spoon."

Brian, 36, said he and his fellow airmen had access to Skype in their rooms, so he was able to stay in touch easily, even in the midst of the very busy mission.

"We flew daily," he said. "It was a 24-hour deal, with three shifts so the guys could get their rest."

As a scheduler, Ahlert was responsible for keeping the 12 Warthogs up in the air with a fresh crew at each shift change while following requirements for crew rest periods between flights.

An active Guard reservist for nearly 19 years and a pilot for 10 years, Ahlert also flew the 188th's previous craft, an F-16 fighter plane, during a 2005 deployment to Iraq.

"The F-16 was a sexy airplane that flew fast and high, but the A-10 is the right plane for the type of fighting we're doing now," he said. "You're able to get low and stay on station. ... We were sent to support ground troops, Marines and Army guys. Our job is to remain overhead to protect the ground guys when they take a village."

Ahlert said the terrain in the southern part of Afghanistan is desert, flat and sandy, while occasional flights north brought high terrain with 18,000-foot mountains and snowy peaks.

"The big difference this time was the airplane. It was designed around the gun," he said.

The ground troops, he said, expressed relief that they had constant communication and support from the airmen and their Warthogs.

"I'm sure we'll be heading back," Ahlert said.

But for now, he'll have time to rejuvenate, spend time with his growing family - and postpone a welcome-home party one more week.

"We were going to the lake next weekend, but we found out Ashley is further along than we thought and the doctor said we should stay close to home," he said.


Please let me repeat Maj. Brian Ahlert: "The F-16 was a sexy airplane that flew fast and high, but the A-10 is the right plane for the type of fighting we're doing now,"

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