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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Everything revolves around the mission.

Days are a constant routine of preparing aircraft for flight, briefs and missions throughout Afghanistan.

Sometimes the missions seem continuous.

But after four months of this grinding schedule, the airmen of the 33rd Rescue Squadron’s Flight B are still eager for their task, said squadron commander Lt. Col. Mike Trumpfheller, who recently returned from the deployment.

That’s because their task is saving lives, he said.

Flight B is deployed to Kandahar, providing combat search and rescue and medical evacuation support for the Army.

About 30 Flight B airmen and three of the squadron’s 10 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters deployed in late July, less than 90 days after the squadron’s Flight A had returned from a 130-day deployment to the same base. A contingent from the Okinawa-based 718 Aircraft Maintenance Squadron deployed with Flight B to provide maintenance support.

At Kadena Air Base, the squadron’s airmen make about 25 to 30 flights in 100 days.

In Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Tim Philpott, 23, a flight engineer from Chattanooga, Tenn., who returned from the deployment in November, said he flew about 50 flights in 100 days. On those missions, he said, he helped save 30 lives.

“Typically missions don’t last very long, less than two hours,” Philpott said. “But we were so busy we didn’t even stop at our home base between missions some days.”

Since July, Flight B has flown more than 330 combat hours and saved 105 people, Trumpfheller said.

The missions Philpott most remembers involved mass-casualty evacuations.

On one, he was part of a three-aircraft group that medically evacuated 28 troops wounded in an improvised explosive device blast. His helicopter picked up four of the troops, he said.

Philpott said that during his deployment, the airmen were responsible for medevacing mostly coalition and U.S. forces, rescuing troops wounded by IEDs, mines, rocket-propelled grenades and gunshots.

From the air, Philpott said, he has seen an improvement in the country since his first deployment in 2006.

“I did see more lights, more power lines that we’re flying over,” he said. “You’re seeing more and more modern things.”

He has also noted an improvement in his quality of life on this deployment.

The messing facility was moved out of a tent and into a hardened structure, and the addition of gravel has made the roads less dusty, he said.

The squadron also received more work space.

“Sometimes, just that small thing will improve the morale of troops, because you’re not face to face and rubbing elbows as much with the same people that you have to see day in and day out, which gets old,” Philpott said.

The flight was scheduled for a 160-day deployment, but its time in Afghanistan has been extended for another couple of months. To lessen the strain, Flight A airmen will swap out with Flight B personnel, Trumpfheller said.

He has been “most impressed” with his airmen’s dedication to duty, Trumpfheller said, adding that elements of the squadron have been in Afghanistan for nine of the last 12 months, flying 700 combat hours and saving 212 lives.

“When the squadron got extended, the number of hands going up saying ‘I’ll stay’ or ‘I’ll go again,’ it’s amazing,” he said.

Although he just got back from the deployment, Philpott was one of those who volunteered to return.

Airman prepares for new arrival upon return

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — His first deployment to Afghanistan was a great learning experience and an opportunity to grow as a leader, but 1st Lt. Ryan Coats, a 33rd Rescue Squadron Flight B co-pilot, said he is glad to be home.

Especially since there has been some growing at home as well, he said.

His wife, Brandess, is pregnant with the couple’s first child and already is past her due date.

Throughout the deployment, she sent him updates about the baby, including a 3-D ultrasound.

He said he found himself paying more attention to Afghan babies and children while in the country. “When you see a rescued child or see a family, it makes you think of your own relationships and putting yourself in their shoes,” Coats said.

Although he saw Brandess grow with their child through video-conferencing opportunities, he said the pregnancy wasn’t real for him until he saw her face to face.

He admitted that the idea of a new baby “won’t really sink in until the baby is actually here,” though they know it is a boy and already picked out the name Caleb.

Since his return last month, the couple has prepared for Caleb’s arrival.

In fact, Coats said he has prepared for the birth much the same way as he did for his first deployment — a lot of reading and “talking to those who’ve already been there.”

— Cindy Fisher

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