Friday, 22 October 2010 00:00

Aviano Welcomes 300 Airmen Back Home

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Team Aviano welcomed back approximately 300 Airmen Oct. 4 and 6 from a four-and-a-half-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Unlike many Air Force deployments in which individuals are deployed from various bases to be part of other teams in theater, an entire aviation package deployed with personnel from across the 31st Fighter Wing, but primarily from the Operations and Maintenance Groups.

During the deployment, the 510th Fighter Squadron "Buzzards" provided close air support to U.S. and coalition forces from May to September.

"Operation Enduring Freedom is a joint fight," said Lt. Col. Gregory Sarakatsannis, 510th FS commander. "The Air Force provides an incredible amount of support to this fight, including airlift, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, communications and close air support, to name just a few. The Buzzards conducted operations during a very busy summer period. As more U.S. and coalition forces entered the country, they needed additional support, and the Buzzards were part of the team that provided it."

Accomplishing the mission together were medical, aviation resource management, aircrew flight equipment and intelligence personnel, pilots and a civilian wing historian. The maintenance personnel included crew chiefs, electronic specialists, weapons loaders and builders, fuels, armament specialists, electro-environmental specialists, egress systems specialists, metals technology, sheet metal specialists, non-destructive inspection specialists, aircraft phase technicians, aerospace ground equipment and maintenance supervision.

Aviano Airmen applied their Air Force training and experience to successfully execute their mission in combat, under some very difficult conditions, Colonel Sarakatsannis said.

"On the day our first jets arrived at Bagram, insurgents launched a complex attack on the base," said the colonel. "Our Airmen witnessed helicopter gunships engaging the enemy in extremely close proximity."

Master Sgt. Troy Blanchard, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 510th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dayshift production superintendent, said the reality of those first days in country during and after the attack is something that stuck with him and his fellow maintainers throughout the deployment.

"That third day in country (when the attack happened) really set the tone for what we were facing and gave us a better understanding of what our ground forces are facing every day," he said. "It made our mission that much more real and important -- knowing our airplanes were protecting troops every day from such attacks."

The senior NCO said the teamwork and dedication he witnessed within the maintenance community while downrange was incredible.

"I was on the flightline with them every day, so I got to witness first hand just how hard everyone worked," he said. "They overcame a lot of maintenance problems and worked through them as if they were nothing. When a jet broke, everybody attacked, it didn't matter whose it was. They all worked together to get it back out on the line. Their tireless dedication was unbelievable."

First time deployer Staff Sgt. Michael Barclay, 31st Maintenance Squadron F-16 crew chief, said the deployment was an amazing learning experience.

"I'm glad I was able to deploy with an awesome group of people," said Sergeant Barclay. "The experience I gained was life changing and should help me supervise my troops and with my future career goals."

Colonel Miller, 31st Operations Group commander, also commended the families of deployers such as Sergeants Blanchard and Barclay for their sacrifices and support over the last four and a half months.

"We recognize the tremendous sacrifices families make during all types of deployments," said Col. Patrick J.S. Miller, 31st Operations Group commander. "We had several sets of parents who were apart for the births of their children. Families apart experience some incredible challenges, but in our Air Force family, one can find countless examples of people helping each other."

Having been home just more than a week, the redeployers are close to completing the reintegration process. The process aims to prepare servicemembers and their families for mobilization, sustain families during mobilization and reintegrate military members with their families, communities and work centers. Participating organizations include the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, 31st Medical Group, 31st Force Support Squadron and other base units.

"Whether our personnel deploy as individuals or as a group, I thank each of our Airmen and their families for their contributions and sacrifices to ensure mission success. It is a complete team effort that allows us to live up to our wing motto of "Return with Honor," said Brig. Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr., 31st Fighter Wing commander.

31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy


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