Airmen based at Aviano Air Base assigned to the Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotation 7/8 carry some of their desert gear into a base hangar to await transportation to Southwest Asia.

Airmen based at Aviano Air Base assigned to the Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotation 7/8 carry some of their desert gear into a base hangar to await transportation to Southwest Asia. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — It’s time for another AEF rotation. And that’s good news and bad news at bases such as Aviano.

The Air and Space Expeditionary Force 5/6 is coming to an end, and AEF 7/8 is just beginning. Those two — part of five such pairings that all deployable Air Force personnel belong to — are the busiest for Aviano.

The upcoming rotation is also a busy one at other Air Force bases around Europe. For example, about 700 airmen from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath are deploying with their aircraft.

Many of those who deploy in AEF rotations do so individually or in small groups. But there are exceptions, and it’s those exceptions causing the bigger numbers at Aviano, which will have roughly 700 airmen deploying this time.

The 510th Fighter Squadron is attached to the current rotation and the 555th Fighter Squadron to the upcoming one. Thus, as families with servicemembers in the 510th prepare to welcome the airmen home from southwest Asia, those with airmen in the 555th are saying goodbye.

Maj. James Lee, a pilot and assistant director of operations for the 555th — known as the Triple Nickel — said his squadron will be performing many of the same missions that its sister squadron at Aviano has been doing the past four months. He said the 555th has been busily training for its tasks, which should largely involve providing close air support for allied forces on the ground.

“The missions are a lot more joint in nature,” he said. “A lot of interaction with the Army and Marines.”

He said taking over for the 510th should be an easy exchange. “We talk on a regular basis,” he said. “We’re going to have a smooth transition.”

Lee is leaving behind a wife and two children, who both started school this week.

“I think it does help make them a little more distracted” and take thoughts away from Dad going on deployment, he said.

Master Sgt. Tim Kellner, whose 6-year-old daughter just started first grade, isn’t so sure.

“I think any time is a bad time as far as kids are concerned,” he said.

But Kellner said he’s looking forward to the deployment. He said it is a good way for maintainers like him to see the results of the work they do on aircraft that are engaging the enemy daily.

And personally, he says, it’ll be good to turn a wrench or two again. He’s achieved a rank in the Air Force where he spends most of his time supervising others.

“I can get away from some of the paperwork and get out there and work,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Alicia Randle, a member of the 31st Operations Support Squadron, said she’ll be making her third trip to the region. The 25-year-old isn’t leaving any family behind in Aviano. But she’s been concerned lately about her family in New Orleans. She hasn’t been able to communicate with them since Hurricane Katrina hit. But she has friends who will keep trying to make contact and relay any messages to her.

Randle, who handles scheduling, said she doesn’t expect to have a lot of free time on the deployment. But she’ll spend some of it working toward her bachelor’s degree.

“And I’ll probably get involved in the church scene a lot,” she said.

Randle will celebrate her birthday downrange, and she and the other airmen headed for the desert will also be spending Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s away from their home base.

But most of them won’t have another such deployment until their rotations come around again in a little less than two years.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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