Spangdahlem airmen get ready to deploy
SPANGDAHLEM, Germany — Spangdahlem airmen met briefly Saturday for last-minute instructions before heading home to spend the few remaining hours with their families.
The first large force of European-based airmen and planes will leave over the next few days en route to an undisclosed location somewhere in the Central region.
More than 500 Spangdahlem airmen and about half the F-16CJ aircraft from one of the base’s three fighter squadrons are leaving, said Maj. Melinda Morgan, a 52nd Fighter Wing spokeswoman. The wing maintains its headquarters at Spangdahlem, located in Southwest Germany.
The actual number of airmen and aircraft deploying is classified, Morgan said.
Air Force officials are also not revealing the deploying unit’s destination, to protect the airmen as they move and settle in to their new duties, Morgan said.
For Airman 1st Class Nicholas Johnson, uncertainty over where he goes makes no difference to how the mission’s accomplished.
“This won’t be a challenge,” said the F-16 crew chief, as he deploys for the first time. “We are trained and ready for anything. We can do our job anywhere.
Spangdahlem officials do know the nature of the unit’s mission.
The unit will fly in to support Operation Enduring Freedom in the Central region, and the plan is to position and be prepared for possible future action in the region when ordered by national leaders, officials said.
Normal Air Force deployments call for airmen to leave for 90 days. However, this deployment appears open-ended.
“We cannot release how long the deployment will last,” Morgan said.
The airmen deploying are pilots and support people for the half-squadron of F-16CJ aircraft. Called “Wild Weasels,” the aircraft usually carry two radar-busting HARM missiles to take out enemy air-defense systems, radar and missile sites.
The aircraft are also armed with two global positioning system-guided missiles and have a 500-round 20 mm multibarrel cannon.
On Friday, the airmen spent part of their day processing for their deployment.
Since this is a short-notice deployment so quickly after the holidays, base officials sought to give the airmen more time with their families and less time in a processing line, said Capt. Claudia Bermudez, the wing’s installation deployment officer.
The base pre-processed airmen days before the planes were to depart, then released the airmen to go home instead of keeping them for longer periods of time immediately preceding their departure, Bermudez said.
The deployment processing team also shaved the time airmen spent in an out-processing line from almost four hours to a little over two hours, Bermudez said.
The whole operation moved smoother than anyone expected, said Tech. Sgt. Robert Hughes, the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of war readiness.
“What used to take almost a whole day now only takes a few hours,” he said.
Airmen staying behind at the base did their part to make it easier for the deploying airmen, Bermudez said.
Instead of the deploying airmen carrying numerous heavy bags around as they processed, teams literally took the bags off their hands and carried the bags to waiting C-5 cargo aircraft.
Are we there yet?
The airmen received several briefings Friday on customs, security and health issues for the Central region. After briefings, it was time to hit the processing line.
People manning the line completed last-minute checks to make sure the airmen are ready and fit to go, said Master Sgt. Dan Walker, the 52nd Mission Support Squadron customer support superintendent.
Field specialists checked identification cards, emergency contact information, weapons qualifications and answered pay, health, religion and family-care questions.
“If anyone’s not up to speed, we pull them out,” Walker said. “If we can fix it before they go, we fix it. If not, they stay.”
Medical immunization troops pulled many of the deploying airmen aside to receive an anthrax booster shot. At times, airmen crowded the shots room, joking with each other about how painful the shot felt.
“Didn’t hurt a bit,” announced one airman rolling down his sleeve with a wince.
Other airmen in the room were not fooled.
“Yes, it did,” shot back the next airman in line. “I saw your face.”
Bracing the family
Getting ready to go took a lot of personal planning, too, said Staff Sgt. Glenn Williams, a deploying 22nd Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager.
“I made sure my will and powers-of-attorney were updated, and my wife and I talked to the chaplain,” Williams said.
Williams cautioned his family of the dangers that servicemembers face while doing their part to keep the country free, he said.
“I know they are young, but I tell them what I can.”
Williams has been spending as much time as he can with his wife, Marrika, and three daughters, Chandler, 7, Chainie, 4, and Ciera, 6 months, before leaving, he said.
“I’ve been spoiling them,” he said of the family time spent playing games, eating out and talking. “I tell them I love them a lot,” he said before turning away to sit quietly in the briefing room.
For airmen staying behind at the base, it is hard to watch friends leave, said Airman 1st Class Jennifer Heath, a support squadron personnel specialist, as she checked weapons qualifications in the deployment processing line.
“I’ll miss hanging out with my friends,” she said. “Part of me wishes I was going. I want to tell my little brothers I’m chipping in on the war on terrorism.”
However, separations are roughest on family members, said Staff Sgt. Michele Bolanos, a 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron training monitor. Bolanos’ husband, Staff Sgt. Ernesto Bolanos, an F-16 weapons load team chief, is deploying. “I’m sad, but we’ve been expecting it,” Michele Bolanos said.
Ernesto Bolanos has not deployed for almost two years, so they knew his time would come soon, she explained.
“It’s going to be hard,” she said. “I’m going to have to wake up a lot earlier —and alone,” she said.
The couple has a daughter, Elaina, 14 months, and child care is more challenging when a spouse is away, she said.
Michele helped Ernesto pack, using her previous experience of deploying to the Gulf to provide needed items.
“He’ll need everything battery operated,” she said.
“Alarm clock, shaver, flashlights. I also told him to check for scorpions in his boots and camel spiders in his bed.”
Michele stayed busy with her family and helping other deploying airmen in her shop.
Busy, that is, until Stars and Stripes asked her to sit down and talk about the deployment. “I haven’t been able to think about it,” she said at first. “But now it’s hitting me hard.”
Tears spring into Michele’s eyes.
“We need to make some videos for Elaina,” she frets about the remaining time the family has left together. “I love him so very much; I just want him to be careful.”