08/22/05 — Airmen preparing for deployment

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Airmen preparing for deployment

By Turner Walston
Published in News on August 22, 2005 1:46 PM

About 80 airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base underwent briefings and medical tests this morning as they prepared to deploy to Southwest Asia this week. About 250 airmen from the base are expected to leave for various duty stations in the Iraqi and Afghanistan theaters over the next few weeks.

The airmen completed the one-stop preparation at the Personnel Deployment Facility this morning.

Master Sgt. John Stevens of the 4th Operations Support Squadron was preparing for his third deployment in the past 18 months.

“A day like this is pretty routine,” Stevens said. “It’s the day you leave that gets really hard.”

Stevens will work as a weather flight superintendent at an unspecified base in Southwest Asia, and said he expects to be there about four months.

“It makes you anxious,” he said of preparing today and then waiting several days before the actual deployment. “You’re starting a process.”

The airmen were joined by 4th Fighter Wing staff members who delivered briefings on a wide range of issues, from family support to health, chaplain services and sexual-assault response programs.

Tech Sgt. Cindy Hartsfield of the Family Support Center briefed the airmen on ways the center takes care of families while they are overseas. One of these ways is the Readiness Emergency Sleeping Tool, or REST. The device is a pillowcase given to airmen with a picture of their family members printed on it. Families are given pillow cases with pictures of their deployed airman. The center also provides phone cards so loved ones can stay in contact.

“We just give them a little peace of mind, knowing someone will take care of their families while they’re gone,” Hartsfield said.

She said the gravity of the situation sinks in when the airmen go through the line.

“I’ve been there,” Hartsfield said. “I’ve been the person deployed and the family member left behind. I’ve been there from both angles.”

Senior Airman John Jordan works as a chaplain’s assistant on base. Today, he talked to the deploying airmen about what the chapel in their deployed location will have to offer. He also talked to them about how to behave in the Islamic culture they will encounter.

Master Sgt. Danny Smith served as the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the briefings this morning.

“It’s different every time,” he said, describing the briefing process. “You can sense the mixed emotions. Some of the younger airmen have a little bit more anxiety. For some of the older heads, it’s like another trip.”

Smith said he’s been there, and can relate to the airmen who may be anxious.

“I know what it’s like to leave a family behind and set out for the unknown.”