12/14/08 — Kelly: 4th to deploy more in new year

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Kelly: 4th to deploy more in new year

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 14, 2008 2:00 AM

Two weeks ago, Col. Mark Kelly was saying goodbye to 32 members of the 4th Fighter Wing Security Forces detail.

"There wasn't a big parade," he said. "There weren't ice sculptures or flower girls."

They were headed to war -- to battlefields familiar to their new commander -- but he could sense that stories from his recent stint at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, were unneeded.

"Just because you have gone through something that's challenging ... doesn't make it any less challenging for these folks," he said.

Kelly knows that deployment scenes will be a more typical sight in 2009, as hundreds of 4th airmen are expected to begin tours in the desert and around the world.

Some, like those Security Forces airmen, have already left.

Others are hugging loved ones a little tighter this holiday season, as they know next year's Christmas and New Year's holidays will be spent far from home.

Kelly understands this.

So his focus has turned from adapting to his relatively new role as 4th commander to "casting a net over those families" soon to be left behind.

"Not only do we morally owe that to (the airmen), it's just good business. If the aviators and the maintainers and support folks are downrange, focused on downrange, we will do the greatest good for our blood and treasure on the battlefield," he said. "If they are concerned about cars, TRICARE, schools -- the list goes on -- they are not going to focus on the task at hand."

For Kelly, that is not an option.

Not when lives are on the line.

So he will strive to succeed in his own "no-fail mission," lifting some of the burden placed on his airmen by wrapping arms around those left waiting -- with a little help from the communities that surround Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"It goes without saying. The community rallies to the side of all these airmen," he said. "They know when friends and neighbors are going to go.

"We have a huge advantage here with this community for a lot of reasons. One is the size. You know, if I was deploying a fighter squadron from Luke Air Force Base, which is surrounded by Phoenix and Scottsdale, it would make the news, but it would just be that front page. It wouldn't necessarily be your neighbor or your swim partner at the YMCA."

But making sure families are OK is only part of a wing commander's mission when deployments loom.

Preparing young men and women for battle is another.

And if an early November inspection conducted by Air Combat Command is any indication of the wing's readiness, Kelly feels pretty good about his airmen -- and their ability to deliver air power on target, on time.

Inspectors rated the wing "outstanding."

But he knows that practice is just that.

So he refuses to allow his those young men and women to dwell on a score or pat on the back.

"We have to be careful. Just because we make it look easy, it's not easy. And those inspectors, although we value their opinion ... we see our airmen every day. We don't just see them for two days," Kelly said. "So we want to make sure they understand that while what they did was outstanding, and I'm their biggest fan ... what they did during that two-day inspection is not the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage is still 7,000 miles from here.

"Sometimes, we lose sorties back here, due to weather or due to maintenance ... but when we go over there, there is no holiday. This is a no-fail mission, because if we lose a training sortie here, we'll get it on Friday or we might get it next week. But if we don't provide that blanket of steel and technology over America's blood and treasure, that's a big deal."

And that will continue to be his message until all 4th personnel return from war.

"Right now, for the Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday period, one of the sub-goals is to make sure everybody has some time off," Kelly said. "Because 2009 will not be the slowest-paced year we have had."