08/23/10 — Rocketeers leave for six-month deployment

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Rocketeers leave for six-month deployment

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 23, 2010 1:46 PM
Last update on: August 26, 2010 2:40 PM

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Col. Patrick Doherty talks to members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th Rocketeers before they board a plane for Bagram Air Force Base on Sunday. The airmen are charged with providing air support to combat operations in Afghanistan.

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Tonya Jaime looks out a window as her husband, Maj. Tom Jaime, leaves for his tour of duty.

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Capt. Curtis Culver kisses his fiancee, Stacia Culver, as they say goodbye Sunday on the tarmac at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

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Hundreds of members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th Rocketeers leave for deployment to Afghanistan from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Members of the Rocketeers will be doing a six-month tour -- two months longer than their previous tour. For many airmen, this is their third or fourth deployment to Afghanistan.

Reece Dvorak's heart wasn't on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Sunday.

In his mind, as he waited with hundreds of other airmen to board a commercial airliner bound for war, he was with his wife and 18-month-old daughter, Adrianna.

"It's necessary, but I wish I could be with my family," the 22-year-old said. "You're torn. You know it's something you have to do, but every bit of you doesn't want to do it."

It was an emotional morning for members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th Rocketeers, as the unit began a six-month tour in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

But not every airman lamented his upcoming role as air power providers for troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

In fact, some of them were chomping at the bit.

Like Airman 1st Class Ryan Koning, an F-15E Strike Eagle crew chief participating in his first deployment.

"I'm pretty excited," he said. "I'm ready to get over there and do some work."

A desire to fight for freedom is, after all, why he joined the Air Force in the first place.

"I like to help my country -- defend it," Koning said. "Mom didn't take it all that well ... but she knows it's what we do -- and she's proud."

During their tour at Bagram Airfield, the Rocketeers will be charged with producing unrelenting air power -- 24/7 Strike Eagle overwatch in support of Coalition operations unfolding on the ground.

And having returned from theater just last summer, the unit is certainly familiar with what that mission entails: escorting convoys, responding to troops-in-contact calls and, when necessary, engaging enemy forces.

Their commander, Col. Patrick Doherty, stressed that fact Sunday during his send-off address.

"They'll know when the Rockets are in town," he said. "You guys are the standard bearers."

But that reputation will only get them so far, Doherty said, if they don't take a keen sense of focus with them to Bagram.

"Once you hit the ground at Bagram, be ready to go. When you show up, you're serious," he said. "Trust you have the best training, the best equipment and the best leadership."

And he asked them to also trust that their families would be taken care of in their absence.

"That's our job," Doherty said. "That's our responsibility, and we take pride in that."

Like Stacia Culver, one of only a few loved ones who showed up to watch her airman board that plane.

"I feel good," she said, moments before sharing one last long embrace and kiss with her fiance, Capt. Curtis Culver. "A little nervous, a little sad today."

More members of the 336th -- and the 4th's fleet of F-15Es -- are expected to join the fight later this week.