70 more civil engineering airmen return to Misawa from Mideast
January 26, 2006
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Plows in yet another snowstorm worked furiously to clear the runway Monday afternoon as Hangar 949 buzzed with anticipation.
Another day, same routine: More Misawa airmen were due back from the war.
Less than a week after 70 civil engineering airmen returned from northern Kuwait on Jan. 18, another 70 came home from a 4½-month Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation.
Again, commanders, senior enlisted leaders, fellow airmen and family members gathered in the hangar to greet the weary travelers, some of whom had journeyed 40 hours from far-flung Iraqi bases to northern Japan.
After sending off more than 300 airmen in early September to support the global war on terrorism, Misawa expects about 270 of its expeditionary warriors to return by month’s end, according to base officials. Most are coming home in small groups via Patriot Express or commercial flights. The last are expected to trickle home by early March.
Monday’s returnees represented a mix of squadrons, from intelligence to communications. They spent their deployment among bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq.
Those in Iraq definitely were closer to the front lines, but like their colleagues elsewhere downrange, their experience was less about dodging bullets and more about long work days.
Senior Master Sgt. Tom Mical, enlisted maintenance operations officer for the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron at Iraq’s Balad Air Base, typically worked noon to midnight overseeing maintenance and repairs on Predator aircraft, C-130s, F-16s and choppers.
In four months, the base racked up 11,400 flight hours.
“That’s 1,400 more than Misawa flies in an entire year, so we were busy,” said Mical, who was named senior noncommissioned officer of the year for the 35th Maintenance Group while deployed.
Bingo and karaoke kept Staff Sgt. Veronica Jackson busy at Ali Base in south central Iraq. Not that she played: Her job at the base’s recreation center was to keep other troops happy and entertained. She and Senior Master Sgt. Ray Magby work for the 35th Services Squadron at Misawa.
“It was pretty quiet,” Magby said. “Guys at Al Ueidid (in Qatar) had Dairy Queen, swimming pools and beer. We just kind of had the basics.”
Jackson never left Ali — “we weren’t allowed off base,” she said — but still encountered tense moments. When mortars hit a trash burn pit, “it shook the whole base,” she said. “I’ve never been attacked before. It was scary but no one got killed.”
Mical also never set foot outside Balad’s base perimeter.
“My wife would have had my butt,” he said.
True, said Susan Mical: “I told him, ‘Don’t get in any convoys, wear your flak vest.’ I was worried. … He was at a base where they were getting hit quite often.”
Balad was attacked more than 70 times while Mical and others from Misawa were there.
Initially, the alarm reds rattled nerves, but after a while, they became almost routine and never interfered with the mission, said Lt. Col. Craig Greenwood, Misawa’s 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander.
“Everyone is trained to respond.” he said. Balad is a huge base, he added, and the insurgents’ aim was way off.