Leader Blues

Monday, February 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>LRAFB deploys airmen abroad

IN SHORT: As part of the Jacksonville air base mission, more airmen go to Iraq while a surge of personnel is implemented.

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Some 120 airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base left for Iraq Friday afternoon as part of the base’s ongoing rotation overseas in support of the global war on terror.

Airmen with the 463rd Airlift Group and the 314th Airlift Wing will be deployed to Iraq for four months, according to 2nd Lt. Kelly George, Public Information Flight.

With the rotation, airmen spend four months in the area of responsibility (AOR) and four months at home, George said, adding that Friday’s deployment of 120 airmen was a “mixed deployment” with aircrew on the four-months-on, four-months-off schedule, while those in support fields who are on a 20-month cycle with Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) deploy for four months out of the year.

LRAFB has more than 700 people deployed in the Middle East.

While there, C-130 crews will continue to carry a “great deal of the load” in Iraq, George said. C-130s are often referred to as the “work- horse of the Air Force,” carrying everything from food, mail, personnel, ammunition and the occasional dignitary to locations in and around Iraq.

To date, LRAFB has contributed to 4,923 convoy reductions in Iraq, replacing trucks and buses with C-130 airlift, thus reducing the danger from roadside bombs that have killed hundreds of U.S. troops.

“Around Monday will be the 5,000 mark in convoys of trucks off the road thanks to the C-130s at LRAFB,” George said.
In the crowd of brown desert battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) and flight suits, airmen sat in holding rooms in the Mobility Air Power building Friday morning waiting for the buses that would carry them to the planes and then on to Iraq.

As they waited in the holding rooms, many airmen made one last phone call to loved ones.
They are tucked in the corner of the room, one ear to the phone and the other ear plugged to block out the background noise.

For some, this could be the last chance to hear the voices of their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends or children for the next four months. If they are lucky, they will have downtime between missions for a quick phone call or email back home.
For many, this marks their first deployment, but for others, it’s one more added to an already long list of times spent away from home and loved ones.

For TSgt. Ronald Coates of Cabot, a field systems mechanic with the 314th Maintenance Group, Friday’s deployment was his first in three years. Coates has been deployed to Pakistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others.
Coates leaves behind his wife Jessica, his 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and two sons who no longer live at home.

“She (Jessica) is handling this deployment harder than those in the past because of the location I’m going to,” Coates said. “But the shop will call at least once a week to check up on her while I’m gone and she has all the information the Family Support Center has available,” he said.

The Family Support Center provides assessment and referral counseling for family-life issues or concerns, family readiness – deployment issues or concerns, financial or budget counseling, employment consultation, transition benefits counseling, and relocation counseling.

Family readiness helps take care of the spouse and family members left behind during the military member’s deployment through numerous programs; for more information call the Family Support Center at 987-6801.
This is the first deployment for A1C Joe Rammacher, a crew chief with the 463rd.

“I’m excited,” Rammacher, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, said. “I get to see something new and have fun,” he added. His wife of two years, Nicole, also knows of the services provided by the Family Support Center, but Rammacher said she is going back home to New York during his deployment.

SSgt. Jeff Welling, a loadmaster with the 61st, knows all too well what it is like to be separated from loved ones.
“This is my third deployment since June of 2005,” Welling said. “I hope this will be my last one for a while,” he said.
Welling said he would like to go to instructor school or move to an Air Education Training Com-mand (AETC) squadron when he returns from this deployment.

In the Air Force for the last 15 years, Welling spent 13 years at Travis AFB in California on the C-5s and was then with the tanker airlift control element (TALCE) before coming to Little Rock.

Even when he is stateside, Welling is still away from his family – they live in Kansas City, Mo.
A veteran of deployments, Welling said they try to help out the younger airmen and those on their first deployment.
“We buddy up with first timers to impart our experience,” Welling said.

A1C Joe Yohn, also a loadmaster in the 61st, said Welling and others have offered bits of wisdom and advice for his first rotation.

“They’ve told me to stay relaxed and stay on top of my game,” 20-year-old Yohn said. “It’s all memory training now,” he said, adding he was both excited and nervous about this, his first deployment.