For families of Nebraskans serving in Afghanistan, separation on Christmas 'the hardest part'

CHI Health Vice President of Medical Operations Dr. Michael Rapp, rear, second from right, and Director of Public Relations Mary Williams, front, second from right, present care packages created for local airmen deployed from the 155th Air Refueling Wing on Dec. 6, 2018, in Lincoln, Neb. at the 155th Air Refueling Wing. Several of the group commanders from the 155th ARW came to thank CHI health for their support. Front row, from left, are Chief Master Sgt Jeff Claypool, Capt. Kyle Linden, Lt. Col. Katy Millwood, Col. John Williams, Mary Williams, and Col. Robert Hargens. Back row, from left, are Lt. Col. Spencer Hansen, Dan Dibbern, Jim Owens, Dr. Michael Rapp, and Col. Kipper Hess.


By DON WALTON | Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star | Published: December 25, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (Tribune News Service) — It’s a long way from home on Christmas Day.

Nearly 200 men and women who serve in the Nebraska Air National Guard are deployed overseas at several locations in the Middle East, many of them in the war zone that is Afghanistan, while most Nebraskans are with their families this Christmas.

Kandahar is more than 7,000 miles away and the weather forecast says it will be 60 degrees on Christmas Day, which arrived in Afghanistan while it was Monday afternoon in Nebraska.

Breanna Jensby of Lincoln will talk to her husband, Chaz, on Tuesday, but it will essentially be through text messages.

The separation during his six-month deployment is difficult, she said, and especially at holiday time.

“He’ll come home to a house he’s never seen,” Breanna said Monday.

“We just bought a house. It’s been kind of a hassle, but I’ve had help from a lot of family and friends.”

Breanna and Chaz do not have children, but they have three dogs.

This isn’t his first deployment; he was deployed to the Middle East in 2014.

“We’re hoping to be together again in mid-April,” Breanna said.

The separation from family members at Christmastime is “the hardest part,” she said. “That’s been difficult.”

The airmen — both men and women — are members of the 155th Air Refueling Wing based in Lincoln, and they fly, maintain and support KC-135 stratotankers while performing a range of other duties.

That’s roughly one-quarter of the members of the Lincoln unit, and their mission enables more airstrikes by U.S. and coalition forces against Taliban networks in Afghanistan.

Deployed troops also perform security, civil engineering, medical and logistical duties.

The deployments generally range up to six months.

A glimpse of the Air Guard mission was provided in an article published online last month by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

Forward deployment of U.S. forces to Kandahar Airfield last year — they had been deployed much farther away, at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar — allows fighter aircraft to “have a persistent presence overhead” with support tankers in the air, said Nebraska Air Guard Lt. Col. Randy Douglas during an interview.

“I will say this move to Kandahar is the best thing for our tankers, not just in the time saved, but the leadership is outstanding here.

“We have flown for five days straight and I’m ready for more,” Douglas said in the DVIDS report.

In a Christmas op-ed salute to the troops, Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska’s adjutant general, wrote that “they are willingly sacrificing important time at home with their families during the holidays and personal/professional pursuits to serve in important missions that keep our enemies at bay and prevent them from striking us here in the homeland.

“They have answered a call that all too few answer,” he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and Bohac on Monday sent an online holiday greeting to the troops via Twitter.

“We know there are going to be empty spots around the dining table at Christmastime,” Bohac said, expressing gratitude for their service.

©2018 Lincoln Journal Star, Neb.
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