Monday, July 01, 2013

Buckley keeps tradition alive

by Senior Airman Marcy Glass
460th Space Wing Public Affairs

6/28/2013 - BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- With Buckley's change of command coming to a close, the 460th Space Wing decided to bring back a tradition and prepared for its own pass in review.

As the wing said farewell to Col. Dan Dant and welcomed Col. Daniel Wright III as the new commander, the military tradition of pass in review gave the commanders a chance to show how impressive the Airmen are to the reviewing official.

"I think it is appropriate that Col. Dant wanted to do this. It doesn't hurt to remember your roots, to remember that we do have traditions that we fall back on," said Barbara Atwell, 460th SW chief of protocol.

The tradition of pass in review has roots that date back to Alexander the Great. He would walk the lines inspecting his troops before going into battle. The traditional ceremony of pass in review evolved at Valley Forge, Pa. during the Revolutionary War. Baron Friedrich Von Steuben volunteered his services to the Continental Congress and was assigned to serve under Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge. Washington appointed Steuben as the inspector general, and he oversaw the training and discipline of the Continental Army.

With 100 men selected as a test group, Steuben instructed and trained the men in drill, maneuver and a simplified manual of arms. All training was done in full military dress uniform. He introduced a system of progressive training including the school of the Soldier, with and without arms, and the school of the regiment. These schools taught the basics of soldiering such as marching, drill, firing and bayonet procedures, discipline, and charges of each rank.

After Steuben's remodeling of the test group was completed, the 100 men went to each brigade teaching other Soldiers. Company commanders were responsible for the training of new men at first, but selected sergeants were appointed to instruct and train while the officer oversaw the training. Eventually this training spread like wildfire, and the results of the new Continental Army's training showed at Barren Hill, Pa.

Over the next 236 years, the traditions created by Steuben have been practiced by all the military branches and has become more ceremonial. Troops have the opportunity to show their discipline and the training that makes them the best during a pass in review.
"It is a nod to our heritage. It is one of those traditions that everyone can relate too," said Shawn Riem, 460th SW historian. "It gives people that sense of continuity."

Not commonly practiced in the Air Force, pass in reviews offer a display of discipline, camaraderie and a sense of pride of Air Force heritage.

12th OG deputy wins dogfight with cancer, returns to flying status

by Bekah Clark
12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas  -- "Four hundred and eighty-five days ago, I was a squadron commander in the greatest flying squadron in the Air Force - the 435th Fighter Training Squadron."

"I was on the top of my game and on top of the world. I was flying a great mission with great officers," said Col. David Drichta, 12th Operations Group deputy commander. "The only thing that wasn't quite right was I was tired."

"Now, all squadron commanders by their second year are tired. They either will or won't admit it, but they're getting tired."

Two of his daughters had been treated for strep throat prior to Christmas so, "we were treating me for strep throat, thinking you've got two girls who have strep throat - you probably have strep throat."

When medications didn't help, his doctors put in a consult for an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Wilford Hall. He never made it to that consult.

"Three days later I started coughing up blood," said Drichta. "I went to the ER, they said 'we've got a serious problem here. We can't even get the scope down your throat because your airway is less than a soda straw right now.'"

They put in a tracheostomy tube, and they biopsied what turned out to be a stage IV cancerous tumor.

'Let's focus on the 100 percent'

After diagnosis, "you can't believe this is happening to you. You've got a hole in your throat to help you breathe, you can't talk, and they tell you have this cancer. You try not to let your mind go there, but you find yourself thinking, I have to tell my family I love them and that I will always love them, even if I'm not here."

It soon became obvious that this was going to be a long-term situation. By March, as soon as he was able to get out of the hospital, he gave up command of the squadron and his Air War College assignment.

Hesitating to even ask survival rates for his type of cancer, the lead ENT surgeon, Dr. (Lt. Col.) Cecelia Schmalbach sensed his concern, according to Drichta.

"She told me 'I could tell you the percentage of the patients who live through this but really when it comes down to it, you don't care about that. It's either 100 percent or it's zero percent for you. You're either going to live or you're going to die. So let's focus on the 100 percent.' And that set the tone."

Because of the size and location of the tumor, doctors couldn't operate on it without taking away Drichta's ability to talk or swallow for the remainder of his life.

Instead, doctors treated Drichta with an aggressive course of chemo and concurrent radiation. He received daily radiation with three rounds of chemotherapy of weeks one, four and seven. Because of some health complications, treatment lasted for more than seven weeks.

'They said it was going to be hell'

"They said it was going to be hell. And it was," he said. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. You shouldn't have to go through that. But that was the means to the end. I needed to be a father and a husband, so we hit it with everything the doctors had, hoping for the best."

The daily doses of radiation soon gave Drichta second-degree burns inside and outside of his throat and mouth. With skin and gums bleeding then falling away and no ability to swallow, Drichta relied on a stomach feeding tube for 3 months.

When Drichta finished treatment, doctors told him it would get worse before it got better, which he confirmed.

"There were points where I was so drained that I literally would lay in my bed and think 'I don't know if I can move my legs or arms right now.' It took me five minutes to sit up. I'd go to take a shower and that would be all I could do for the entire day - the entire day."
After one more hospitalization for a complication of the treatment, Drichta began the slow ascent of recovery.

In early September, doctors did their first PET CT scan after treatment and with great news.

"We couldn't see the tumor anymore and we couldn't see any cancerous stuff going on with the lymph nodes either," but, his lymph nodes were larger than the doctor liked and soon Drichta was under the knife to remove the lymph nodes and check for more cancer.

"Scarring from radiation and previously cancerous lymph nodes had wrapped around my jugular vein and the nerve bundle that controls my left arm. If [the doctor] missed at all, I may not be able to use that arm."

Three and a half hours later, he emerged from surgery with full movement in his arm and best of all, the pathology came back negative for more cancer.

Later that month Drichta was promoted to colonel.

"That was pretty amazing. Then we went to Disney World," he said. "In the middle of chemo and radiation, I was pretty down and I needed something to look forward to, so I planned a vacation as a goal to meet after the treatments."

'Caring for your fellow human being'

"We talk a lot about being good wingmen in the Air Force, but I saw it in action," said Drichta of his fellow Airmen who rallied around him and his family.

"From the Wing Commander, Vice Commander, and Operations Group Commander in my room when I was finally able to sit up, telling me everything was going to be ok and they'd take it from there, to the bros in squadrons far and wide sending e-mails."

"The Operations Group Commander's wife drove 50 miles to pick up my wife from the airport as she was out of town when I went to the ER. My best friend dropped everything and drove from Laughlin AFB to be at my bedside. More friends drove me to the daily radiation treatments. They even set up a pseudo Family Liaison Officer to marshal all the help being offered."

"Everybody was taking care of my wife, my kids and me because I couldn't."

"The 'Wingman Concept.' Caring for your fellow human being; that's what it is," he said. "We spend so much time trying to institutionalize caring for somebody else, when sometimes we should get out of the way and let amazing people in this Air Force get it done. This is a part of who we are - this is what we do."

The medical care complemented the love and support he and his family were receiving, according to Drichta.

"I cannot overstate the level of expertise and the compassionate care," said Drichta of his expansive medical team.

From the flight doc at JBSA-Randolph to the staff at San Antonio Military Medical Center, the ENT department, oral surgery, endocrinology, intervention radiology, radiation oncology, hematology oncology - doctors, nurses, techs, and staff - "these people are incredible."

Can he fly?

After more than a year from diagnosis through recovery, the question of Drichta's ability to return to flight status remained.

The doctors got to work, once again, evaluating his health and after a visit to the Aeromedical Consult Service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, they recommended a return to flight status - but not in high performance aircraft.

Because there's very little data on pilots with heavy radiation to the neck and damage to tissues, doctors couldn't clear him to go directly back to the T-38, let alone back into the F-15E he grew up in. They gave him the option to test in a centrifuge.

"I went to the centrifuge and was medically monitored. We did the standard T-38 profile - up to 7 ½ Gs - we did everything just like anyone going through that profile. And my body worked great."

And so on June 19, surrounded by family and friends, Drichta marked his return to flight status with his first T-38 flight since his diagnosis.

"This flight was 484 days after my last flight, my 3,000th hour of flight time in an Air Force aircraft, and a flight that cancer tried to steal from me last Spring," said Drichta.

As for what's next for the Drichta family, "the Air Force reset last year's plans and generously placed me in the upcoming Air War College class," which begins this summer.

"I don't know where I'll end up in the next couple of assignments, but I absolutely have a story to share and a duty to use the perspective I've gained to help others around me. My resilience is a direct result of so many individuals carrying me though. They are phenomenal Wingmen and Flight Leads in every sense."

Silver Flag exercise prepares 'Okie' civil engineers

by Maj. Jon Quinlan
507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

6/28/2013 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Twenty nine reservists from the 507th Civil Engineer Squadron honed their bare base skills during a recent deployment to Silver Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

Civil engineers were tasked with establishing and running a fully operational base in a contingency environment during the week-long field exercise.

Civil engineers are often the first boots on the ground setting up the initial layers for a contingency base. Silver Flag tests and trains CE teams in this vital mission and does it away from home station in austere conditions just like in a real deployment.

This training was established so there in not a gap in training or knowledge of Airmen when they go down range according to CE Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force managers.

"CE Airmen assigned to Prime BEEF teams have to attend Silver Flag every 45 months," said Lt. Col. Patricia Pettine, 507th CES commander "We've all been doing this our whole career and always look forward to the training opportunity."

The mission for the 507th reservists was to join forces with around 130 other active duty, Guard and Reserve engineers and establish a simulated base for over 1,200 personnel, multiple F-16C's and C-130J aircraft missions and to do so as quickly as possible.

Set up and maintenance is a huge undertaking and took the entire team according to Pettine. The engineers first conducted the bed down planning, force protection security and then started work on the construction. They established a unit control center and then erected shelters, established power, electrical, water and wastewater operations. Then they provided airfield damage assessment teams, crash, fire and rescue operations, and led convoy operations.

The training is all about preparing the Airmen and establishing an example of what to expect when deploying. If it's a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear event occurring while setting up a tent or showing Airmen how to react post attack, the training will help them and could save their life, according to Prime BEEF instructors.

Airman 1st Class Talisa Edmundson, 507th CES was named an outstanding performer in the exercise.

International military academy students visit New Jersey area

by Staff Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez
621st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J.  -- The 621st Contingency Response Wing welcomed foreign military students for a closer look at its air mobility support operations here, June 26 to 27.

Lieutenant Gen. Francois Hendrickx, Belgian director of military education, and 34 students from the advanced staff course at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels, Belgium, toured the CRW's Global Reach Deployment Center here to learn about contingency response operations as part of their advanced year-long leadership course.

According to Capt. Sean Hook, 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron air advisor and CRW tour organizer, everything they learn in this course prepares them as future leaders of their respective countries.

"Just like us, they attend advanced professional military education," Hook said. "This is Belgium's version of our Air War College."

The 621st is the U.S. Air Force's sole contingency response wing and specializes in rapidly establishing air mobility operations around the globe in remote or dangerous environments. Airmen in the CRW have responded to many of the world's largest humanitarian disasters and contingency operations, making them valuable sources of information for students.

The tour included an in-depth mission orientation and a hands-on capabilities demonstration, along with a static display of a 305th Air Mobility Wing C-17 Globemaster III and KC-10 Extender, an aerial port squadron brief and a stop at the Air Advisor Memorial before concluding their tour at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center.

According to Lt. Col. Nico Claessens, a Belgian Air Component aviator, this visit allowed him and his classmates to gain valuable experience.

"You get to look at what actually happens out there in the real world," Claessen said. "In Belgium, we put a lot of focus on joint, combined war-fighting and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst focuses on that concept as well. It gives us a great example of what we can do on a smaller level in Belgium."

JB MDL, NSA Lakehurst welcome new commander

by Pascual Flores
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Deputy Commander and Naval Support Activity Lakehurst Commander Navy Capt. William Bulis relinquished command to Navy Capt. Christopher Fletcher June 20, 2013, here.

The change-of-command ceremony took place inside the Westfield Hangar, in front of an audience comprising senior leaders, civilians, families, friends and service members of NSA-Lakehurst.

The ceremony commenced as Chief Petty Officer Michael Zgoda, Honor Boatswain's Mate from Philadelphia, piped aboard the official party consisting of the outgoing and incoming commanders and Col. John Wood, JB MDL commander, through a formation of six chief petty officers who were lined up as Side Boys for the ceremony.

"One year ago, 364 days ago, Capt. Bulis said, 'I sure hope to be here for two years,'" said Wood. "It wasn't a promise, so we are letting him off the hook because of the great command opportunity he has."

Wood commented on Bulis' promises that he would focus on the community, Sailors and Airmen and learn the joint base and be a quick study.

"Capt. Bulis delivered on all those promises," said Wood.

A "dual-hatted" command, Bulis served as commander of NSA-Lakehurst and deputy commander of JB MDL.

"He focused on heritage, standards and especially processes," said Wood. "He made sure he had a fit, flexible and capable command. And he delivered in every single one of those areas."

Wood also said, Bulis never failed in his joint role, never failed as the senior Sailor, representing his service and the Department of the Navy.

"During Hurricane Sandy, for 28 straight days, 24 hours, he was the focal point for the Crisis Action Team, for all services, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Title 10 services," said Wood. "He was the voice of our forces to help the community."

Addressing the crowd, Bulis thanked his friends and peers and commended the Sailors of NSA-Lakehurst for the great work and effort during Hurricane Sandy.

"To all the NSA-Lakehurst Sailors, thank you very much. You make things happen," said Bulis.

Bulis moves on to serve as the installation commander at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill., the largest Navy installation in the Navy.

Fletcher thanked the Sailors and civilians of NSA-Lakehurst for welcoming him and his family to the joint base.

"It is hard to believe that a week ago we were sitting in Italy eating," said Fletcher. "We spent eight years overseas and I think my family will agree that we are happy to be here in the United States, the land of plenty."

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Fletcher was commissioned in January 1989, through the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Fletcher resided in Naples, Italy, prior to his assignment here, where he served as the Deputy Director of Operations for Commander Naval Forces Europe, Commander Naval Forces Africa, Commander Sixth Fleet staff.

"We are excited to be here and looking forward the opportunity to meet the Sailors of NSA-Lakehurst" said Fletcher. "I'm looking forward to being a part of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the only tri-service joint base."

Air mobility units join forces to train in remote environments

by Airman 1st Class Ashlin Federick
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del -- Air mobility teams joined forces to develop essential skills that can be used to extend the global reach of the U.S. Air Force in times of crisis.

The 3rd Airlift Squadron from Dover Air Force Base paired up with the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to conduct semi-prepared runway operations June 17 to 21 at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

SPRO is conducted on any runway which is not paved, such as dirt or crushed stone. SPRO training validates the 621st Contingency Responses Wing's capability to open, secure and operate airfields in austere environments. The more prepared the CR forces and aircrews are to execute the mission, the quicker the user benefits.

"Most of the time a lot of the forward operating bases don't have the capability to pave everything," Staff Sgt. Ryan Thompson, 3rd AS evaluator loadmaster said. "This training makes it so we can get our bigger aircraft and take equipment or personnel closer to the fight."

There are a lot of limitations with SPRO training, such as the dust and distance. In the aircraft all of the limitations change because it has to carry less. Taking off is also an issue because normally the SPROs are conducted on extremely narrow and short runways. The minimum requirement for landing and taking off for a C-17 is 3500 feet. This also happens to be the same distance as the assault strip at Fort A.P. Hill.

"As both a pilot and a landing zone safety officer for this exercise, every Airman involved had to be at the top of their game," said Maj. Dave Gaulin, chief of tactics, training and readiness for the 818 Contingency Response Group. "Safely operating a 400,000-pound Globemaster in the dead of night on a dirt road leaves zero margin for error."

While conditions like this are everyday business for the 'Mobility Masters" of the 621st, the exercise offered a welcome change of pace for the Dover-based Airmen.

"It was a great opportunity to improve our skill sets," said Capt. Dan Morgan, 436th Airlift Wing Safety Office chief of flight safety. "We get to do air refueling and normal tactical arrivals a lot. To actually go into the environment and land on a runway that is so short can add some stress to the job."

Many contingency operations are conducted under the cover of darkness, so proficiency with night vision goggles was a key aspect of the SPRO training.

"The night time training is probably more realistic," said Capt. Zach Walrond, 3rd AS chief of tactics. "You are going into a field that is totally blacked out but they are using covert lighting so they can only see the panels with their goggles on."

In the past, both the CRG and the 3rd AS had to go to California to do the SPRO training. Doing the training at A.P. Hill saves the CRG about $80,000 in costs for traveling fees; it also saves Dover AFB about $500,000 in fuel costs. 

MacDill pooch in running for 'Hero Dog'

by Staff Sgt. Brandon Shapiro
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The catch phrase "man's best friend" takes a whole new meaning when it's applied to one dog in particular: MacDill Air Force Base military working dog Eddie.

Recently, MWD Eddie and his handler at the time, Staff Sgt. Shannon Hutto, 6th Security Forces Squadron K-9 trainer, have been getting national recognition for their heroic acts while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Hutto described Eddie as "a loyal dog that he owes his life to." Hutto means it literally.
While conducting a foot patrol in a hostile village in Afghanistan, MWD Eddie sniffed out a pressure plate explosive just inches from where Hutto was about to place his next step. In doing so Eddie likely saved the lives of all 13 members of his troop battalion and a few innocent bystanders nearby.

Shortly after, without skipping a beat, Eddie continued searching for other explosives on the highly traveled footbridge used by coalition forces and local villagers, uncovering another explosive device. Eddie's valiant efforts likely saved many lives.

Joint forces provide base security

by Pascual Flores
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- The Friday-morning rush hour traffic moved smoothly through the McGuire Gate, as members of the 87th Security Forces Squadron and Army Reserve Military Police checked the ID cards of the service members and civilians reporting for work June 14, 2013, here.

Approximately 45 reserve Soldiers performing annual training from the 313th Military Police Detachment from Las Vegas augmented the joint base security forces uniformed and civilian personnel that comprise Airmen, Sailors and Department of the Air Force police. The opportunity to observe and compare job skills and best practices could prove instrumental in the field of law-and-order for base security with Soldiers and 87th SFS service members working side by side.

"We are working with the 1st Battalion, 307th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade, which is responsible for training Soldiers for mobilization and the 78th Training Division that is responsible for training service members of the Guards and Reserve," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Thompson, 87th SFS operations superintendent. "We have an agreement with the 78th T.D. and the 1-307th to help provide hands-on training."

Additional training support for service members of the Military Police is scheduled for January, 2014.

"We are here at the joint base for our annual training," said Sgt. Curtis Johnson, Military Policeman and native of Pico Rivera, Calif., currently assigned to the Las Vegas unit. "The job is mostly the same. It's pretty close across the board working with other law enforcement members."

The 313th MP Detachment is a law-and-order unit, with specialized skills in criminal, traffic and accidents investigations.

Airmen wanting to enter the security career field begin at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, in San Antonio. Air Force applicants undergo training at the Air Force Security Forces Academy which hosts a 65-day course that teaches security forces students basic military police functions including: missile security, convoy actions, capture and recovery of nuclear weapons, law enforcement and traffic direction.

"Gate duty is only a part of what we do here at the joint base," said Airman 1st Class Joshua Cruz, 87th SFS, a native from Hialeah, Fla. "We also respond to domestic disputes, minor and major accidents, alcohol incidents as well as other functions."

Security forces were formerly known as military police, air police and security police. On Oct.13, 1956, Air Police training transferred to then Lackland Air Force Base, Texas where it evolved into Security Police training and eventually became the U.S. Air Force Security Forces Academy. In 1966, the Air Police career field name was changed to Security Police and in April 1997, the career field name was changed again to its current name of Security Forces.

JBSA-Lackland is also the home of the Naval Technical Training Center for Sailors desiring to serve as Navy master-at-arms. Sailors there attend an intense seven-week course of instructions for training in areas of anti-terrorism, security forces fundamentals, weapons proficiency, basic law enforcement and more.

"I have been attached to the 87th SFS and have worked with Airmen, police officers from the Department of the Air Force as well as other MAs," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Randolph Oden, 87th SFS MA, a native from Metropolis, Ill.

The MAs rating was one of the original Navy ratings when it was first established in 1797 and later disestablished in 1921. Established in 1942, the Specialists Shore Patrol and Security worked shore patrol teams and ensured basic ship and shore station security. Its name was changed in 1948 to Shore Patrolman and it took on some of the official functions of the current MAs, only to be re-disestablished in 1953. Re-established in 1973, the MAs rating drew its members from Sailors cross-rating from other ratings at the Petty Officer 2nd Class level and above. The Navy Recruiting Command made available the MA rating a new contract mission for entry level applicants in 2003.

For Soldiers attending the U.S. Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the 10-week course covers five weeks of law-and-order training and five weeks of combat-support topics. Upon graduation, MP Soldiers will be technically proficient in policing activities, corrections and detentions operations, police and criminal intelligence operations as well as tactically proficient in combat support operations, area security, stability and civil support operations.

Congress authorized the Military Police Corps on May 27, 1778. It traces its beginning to the formation of a provost unit, the Marechaussee Corps, in the Continental Army, with a French term for provost troops.

Today, the military police, or MP corps, plays an important role in combat operations, providing escort for high visibility military assets and visitors, training and protection for local national security forces and assisting in the arrest of enemy combatants.

"We are here in a dual capacity," said Army Capt. Monty McCoy, 313th MP Det., commander. "We are actually providing law-and-order support to the host nation police force. The 87th SFS is acting as the host nation and fulfilling a United States Army Reserve Command training requirement because we are up for deployment and prior to deployment you have to go through a Combat Support Training Exercise."

Supporting commanders beyond the successful resolution of battle involves the law-and-order mission. The mission focuses on suppressing the chance for criminal behavior, thereby supporting commanders by ensuring a lawful and orderly environment, which units need to maintain discipline and combat readiness.

"We are conducting real-world training, performing garrison duty, investigations and patrols while working on our law-and-order certification," said McCoy.

Department of the Air Force police officers work closely with the 87th SFS service members. DAF police officers, who are former civilian police officers, typically attend the Department of Defense Police Academy in Little Rock, Ark.

First Army has tasked the 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Training Support Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade to conduct military police law-and-order prior to mobilizing and deploying Army reserve and National Guard Soldiers here. The most recent training was the first iteration, but the U.S. Army has identified numerous units to train over the next year. This new task establishes a training partnership between instructors from the Army military police community and the 87th SFS.

"The law-and-order mission has introduced both branches to considerations and training on a joint forces level. The training was an exceptional working experience which we have no doubt will continue to build stronger military bonds," said 1st Lt. John Cone, 1-307th TSB, assistant training and operations officer.

The training cycles for each unit are between two and three weeks, including a 'ride along' with 87th SFS law enforcement personnel as a culminating training event during the last phase. The last phase encompasses working with Air Force police on patrol, manning the entry points and gates and performing other logistical police positions and duties.

The Burden of Service (Part 1)

by Staff Sgt.Russ Scalf
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/1/2013 - LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Lugging his bags to the curb, contemplating innumerable what ifs, Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain pauses for a moment and reassures his wife Heather that everything will be all right. Holding back her tears, she whispers softly that she loves him.

As midnight approaches, one of the military's oldest rituals is renewed as Drain kisses his wife and their two sons goodbye and leaves for war.

"Saying goodbye is a hard emotion to capture," said Drain, "especially because there is always the chance that it could be your last one. That goodbye hurts for at least a month. The first time I deployed, once Heather was gone, I cried for at least 15 minutes. I hid that emotion from her, I guess to try to be the strong one, but I think it might have hurt more than anything."

For this rotation Drain widened his outlook on preparation, making a concerted effort to provide every resource available to his recently expanded family.

Just three weeks prior to his departure, the couple celebrated the arrival of their second child, Everett.

"She just had a baby; she's still healing," said Drain. "If I put myself in her shoes, I'm basically abandoning her. I'm still here financially, but what good is that sometimes?"

Situations like Drain's present a clear illustration of the resiliency that Airmen exhibit every day in service to the nation. Regardless of length or location, the men and women fulfilling these deployment obligations have given up some measure of normalcy to do so.

"The hardest part about deploying is most definitely leaving your family," said Drain.

"Everett, my newest son, is 3 weeks old; he'll never remember this, but leaving her with that responsibility, by herself, should not be like that. I'm going to potentially miss his first smile, probably, him sitting up, things like that. Possibly crawling, those are big milestones in a young child's life, and I'm going to miss probably all of them. Ayden, he's 4, so he gets that I'm leaving, but he doesn't get exactly what's going on or where I'm going. We try to explain it to him, war. It might be a little much for him at 4 years old, but what else do you tell him, work? You just do the best you can to explain it to him."

For Drain, a flight engineer with the 53rd Airlift Squadron, this deployment represented an opportunity to improve on several missteps made during his first deployment.

Early in the life of his eldest son, Ayden, Drain was tapped for a deployment to Iraq.

"The first time I went, I had maybe a month's notice," said Drain. "I said 'hey honey, I've got to deploy.' It was good for my career, but I failed to see where it was good for my family, or make it good for my family by discussing it with her. I failed big time. That was one thing I knew I would not let happen this time."

He attributes undue stress on the relationship during the deployment to a lack of communication.

"One of the biggest things is communication," said Drain. "The first time, in Iraq, we just didn't talk about anything. I went over there, and it all just blew up because we never talked about it. We got it solved, we figured it out, but some couples don't and they never recover. Communication is number one; everything will fall apart otherwise."

Another focal point for Drain was the comfort of his family during his absence.

"During this deployment my preparations started much earlier," said Drain. "It really started at the first hint of the possibility of deploying. The first step was talking with Heather. We knew the baby was coming, so making sure she could handle it was important. After that, we started looking around the house to see what needed to be fixed or could potentially go bad. We replaced some appliances, made some repairs and took care of finances. I wanted her to be happy. The last thing you want on the road is to worry about their comfort."

As dawn approached, the Airmen sat quietly. Crammed into the darkest corners of the base passenger terminal, the fatigue of preparation had set in. Some made small talk, however, most spent their final moments on station in muted meditation. Some had embraced the expedition at hand; while others were adrift, transfixed by familiar reflections.

For Drain it was both.

"There are so many things that could go wrong," said Drain. "All I could think about is how I could have prepared my wife and family better. There comes a point, though, where you have to focus energy on what is in front of you and what you are doing. For me it was that point. I was sad for leaving my family. They are the most important thing to me, but if you can't or don't shift gears to the task in front of you, you could really get people hurt, or worse."