Spangdahlem families, airmen reunite after 6-month combat deployment
October 20, 2016
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — October is shaping up to be a month of reunions here, following the end of a pair of six-month combat deployments in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and other downrange missions.
A cold, dreary Thursday morning couldn’t dampen the giddy spirits of the families who welcomed home more than 160 airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron.
Among the crowd holding American flags and glittery signs while waiting inside the squadron building for the busloads of airmen to arrive from the base terminal was Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Solomon, a datalinks technician with the squadron.
She carried the reason for sitting out this deployment in her arms: Baby Fredrick, three months old.
Tech. Sgt. Brian Solomon, a radar operator, was about to meet the couple’s sixth boy for the first time.
“It’s huge,” Tiffany Solomon said of the moment. “We haven’t told the other kids yet. I just want him to have a few moments with the new one and then we’ll add the family.”
The couple’s oldest, a high school sophomore, almost foiled the surprise.
“I was going to be in a dress,” Tiffany Solomon said. “He asked questions this morning. I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m just trying it on for when dad comes.’ So I put my uniform back on.”
Thursday’s reunion was held about a week after hundreds of Spangdahlem families celebrated another milestone — the return of the 480th Fighter Squadron, after its first deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. About 300 airmen deployed to Southwest Asia for six months in flight, maintenance and support roles for the squadron’s F-16 fighter jets, base officials said.
The bulk of the airmen who returned this Thursday worked from hubs at Al Dhara Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, providing command and control to U.S. and coalition aircraft involved in three missions: the fight against the Islamic State, operations in Afghanistan, and the defense of the Persian Gulf. Other airmen with the squadron were spread out at satellite forward operating locations in the region.
“It was extremely, extremely unique because of the circumstances surrounding the AOR right now,” said Lt. Col. Jason Zemler, the squadron’s director of operations.
“A lot of interaction with Russian aircraft, a lot of interaction with coalition aircraft, a lot of interaction with players that you would traditionally not have interaction with, which was a challenge,” he said. “The guys did absolutely awesome with it.”
Downrange, the airmen were part of the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, known simply by the call sign “Kingpin.” They supported 175 operators in 941,000 square miles of air space from Syria to Afghanistan while controlling 38,000 sorties, Zemler said.
If the mission could be likened to a football game, the squadron was the quarterback, Zemler said. The receivers might “drop a bomb, refuel some assets or simply do some intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” he said. “We’re the ones who tell them where to go and manage them once they get there.”
Spouses such as Cari Lara left behind to manage the home front had to manage their own juggling acts.
A week after her husband, Maj. Ricardo Lara, an air battle manager with the ACS, had deployed, Lara found out that she was pregnant. She waited for him Thursday with an oversized belly and the couple’s two toddlers.
“Oh my gosh, I’m a hot mess,” she said. “I’m almost 8 months pregnant, trying not to cry; my kids are running around like crazy.”
For the Laras and other squadron families, there won’t be much time for rest and relaxation. Over the next several months, the squadron will complete its move to Aviano Air Base, Italy, where it will take over the facilities that were vacated by the 603rd ACS in August 2013, when it was inactivated.
The 606th’s transfer to Aviano is one of the first moves of the European Infrastructure Consolidation Plan, part of a sweeping reorganization of U.S. forces on the Continent. The 606th’s relocation will make room for the 352nd Special Operations Wing, slated to move to Spangdahlem from RAF Mildenhall in Britain, in the coming years.
The squadron will be out of Germany by the end of February, said Maj. Carol Kale, the 606th ACS Detachment One commander. That’s when “we close out the lights and nothing belongs to us anymore,” she said.