Friday, October 5, 2012

Wing recaps deployment for community members

by Staff Sgt. Danielle Johnston
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Lt. Col. Preston McConnell, 303rd Fighter Squadron director of operations and A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, briefs Holden, Lincoln and Jefferson City, Mo., community members Oct. 4 at the Whiteman Base Community Council luncheon. McConnell spoke to the BCC about the wing's recent deployment to Afghanistan. The Base Community Council is comprised of non-military community leaders with the mission to support Airmen and bridge the gap between the base and the community. The 303rd FS is part of the 442nd Fighter Wing, an A-10 Thunderbolt II Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Ramirez) Hi-res

10/5/2012 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Holden, Lincoln and Jefferson City, Mo. community members heard about an Afghanistan deployment first-hand at the base community council luncheon here, Oct. 4.

The Whiteman Base Community Council is a group of community leaders who meet monthly to learn about the mission here and who work to support military members through events and fundraisers.

Lt. Col. Preston McConnell, guest speaker for the BCC luncheon and A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, was the project officer for the 442nd Fighter Wing when it deployed in December 2011. Of the wing's 1,000 reservists stationed here, more than one-third of the unit deployed to Afghanistan - some for six months.

McConnell gave BCC members a glimpse into his deployment by showing pictures of his children sending him off just days before Christmas in 2011.

"Think back where you were last year on Dec. 23," he said. "Most of you were getting ready to spend the holidays with your families. But for many reservists here, we were boarding a plane heading to Afghanistan, and while we didn't want to spend the holidays away from our families, we were proud to be serving our country."

He talked about reservists who deployed from each of the represented communities and what they left behind to accomplish the mission in Afghanistan. Pictures of an A-10 in-flight refueling and unclassified weapons system videos received awes from the nearly 150 luncheon attendees.

"This gave the community members a feeling of what these Citizen Warriors go through when they deploy," said Glenn Nelson, BCC president and Lincoln, Mo. resident.

In December, Nelson and his wife, Cathy, along with two other BCC members, saw off deploying reservists at nearly 2 a.m. as the Airmen prepared to board the plane to Afghanistan. Each reservist received a handshake and a bag of homemade cookies from the community members. The BCC has made and distributed more than 1,200 cookies to deploying Airmen here in the last year.

"It was an honor to see these folks off," Nelson said of his early-morning experience back in December. "They head over there to keep us safe, and it's a touching experience to see what they go through."

While deployed, the 442nd Fighter Wing flew 1,800 missions taking approximately 7,200 hours, working 24-hour operations at all times. The A-10 is designed for close-air support - and more importantly, to protect and defend ground troops.

"There was a sign in our squadron over there in Afghanistan that said, 'The mission is an 18-year-old with a rifle. All else is support,'" McConnell said. "No matter what your political belief about the war, the purpose of the A-10s in Afghanistan is to keep that 18-year-old soldier, sailor or Marine, who is on the ground fighting - safe.

"When we left Afghanistan, it was bittersweet," he said. "It was bitter because we knew there was still work to be done. The United States is the only military in the world that uses the motto, 'No man left behind.' We knew there were still people on the ground fighting, so we didn't want to leave them. But at the same time, we all were so excited to get back to our families."

McConnell ended his brief with photos of reservists reuniting with their families and friends after the deployment.

"I want you to know, without the support of each of your communities, we couldn't do what we do," he said. "Thank you to the base community council and to each of you for your support."

Source (including 1 photo)

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