Misawa Security Forces airmen back from Iraq
MISAWA, Japan — Returning to northern Japan on Wednesday morning was a long time coming for a small group of 35th Security Forces Squadron airmen.
Deployed for 10 months, they missed almost every major holiday, anniversaries, birthdays, and for some, the birth of a son or daughter.
“It’s been a long time — longer than we anticipated,” Tech. Sgt. Maurice Robinson said, after a long, teary embrace from his wife, Melissa. “It’s great to be back.”
Robinson and 12 others were deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq, where they worked in detainee operations. Located near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, Camp Bucca is the largest coalition facility in Iraq for enemy prisoners of war.
On Wednesday, 10 airmen landed at Misawa Airport, while one airman had arrived on a separate flight the night before. Two others took leave in the States.
“They’re coming home to a warm welcome and some well-deserved time off,” said Maj. Scott Sanford, the squadron’s new commander, before meeting the airmen for the first time.
The group’s deployment was extended 45 days this summer.
“It was kind of a shock,” Master Sgt. Robert Briggs, 40, said. “You’re in the mind-set that you’re going home. You have to remotivate yourself and do it again.”
Overall, however, the mission was rewarding, Briggs said.
“You can say you were a part of history,” he said. “We’ve never been a part of detainee operations before.”
The Air Force first began augmenting the Army at Camp Bucca in late 2004.
Misawa’s airmen spent the first month of their deployment in the States, training for their new mission. The base still has two teams of Security Forces personnel at Camp Bucca. Base officials expect one group to return in a month, the other by the end of the year.
Briggs was part of a “quick-reaction force,” which could mobilize to quell a detainee uprising. Most days were low key, he said, “as long as detainees cooperate, get their meals at the appropriate time, get the chance to pray.”
But there were grumblings and small protests about two to three times a week.
Briggs’ team would be called on to help calm detainees on those occasions, as well as during more violent uprisings, when rocks or homemade weapons might be thrown, he said.
“It could get pretty intense during an uprising — just the sheer number of detainees,” he said.
Tech. Sgt. Max Van Ausdal estimated there were more than 20 major riots during the deployment. What did he learn while there? “That I’m not ever wearing yellow,” he said, referring to the color of detainees’ uniforms.
Greeting Van Ausdal at the airport was his wife, Jenelle, and their three children. “I’m very, very excited and nervous and feel like I’m going to pass out,” she said. “It’s been a long 10 months.”
Jenelle said her husband has been deployed 15 months during the past two years. “We’re done. We’re getting out,” she said. “It’s too much.”