09/05/10 — Colonel discusses deployment

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Colonel discusses deployment

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 5, 2010 1:50 AM

Col. Patrick Doherty

The news was "late-breaking": members of the 336th Rocketeers would begin their stint at Bagram Airfield early -- their tour of duty extended from the four months each was preparing to spend at war to half-a-year.

But 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty said despite the quick change, he still expects the same level of excellence from a unit that, just last summer, set Air Force records in Afghanistan.

"We expect the same type of performance they have always given -- first-class air support, air power, wherever it's needed," he said. "There's not much more really to say except that their excellence in the past is the expectation for the future."

Several hundred airmen left Seymour Johnson Air Force Base late last month -- some in a commercial airliner, others in the F-15Es that are currently being utilized by the 336th to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

And their commander contends they are ready for the fight they joined a few days ago.

"They have a great leadership team and they have done some very hard, hard training to prepare for this," Doherty said. "I absolutely envy them. This is why we wear the uniform. This is why we raised our right hands -- to go on missions like these and to deploy and really do the mission at hand."

But under the Air Expeditionary Forces rotation, it is atypical for a unit to be sent back to theater within a year of its last tour.

And the tempo only recently changed for the F-15E community because of the need for a Strike Eagle presence in locations other than Afghanistan, Doherty said.

"I think the Rockets are great, but that wasn't the reason why this deployment came back up," he said. "The real reason this deployment came back up on such a quick cycle is because the other combatant commanders across the globe required F-15Es on the Korean Peninsula."

So with only a few operational Strike Eagle units to choose from, members of the 4th Fighter Wing were called on to fill the void left when the group originally set to go to Bagram was assigned to that Area of Responsibility.

"The bottom line is you have six operational Strike Eagle squadrons and that's the bare minimum needed to take care of everything we're involved in right now," Doherty said. "To make sure we're protecting everybody."

But the notion of having the capabilities the F-15E brings to the table in Afghanistan was not the reason the Rocketeers' tour was extended.

The concept of shifting from four- to six-month deployments was a policy decision, the colonel said -- although it was not expected to be implemented quite yet.

"That was kind of late-breaking. We found out that information about a week prior ... and so that made us kind of step up," Doherty said. "When (Air Force officials) saw who was coming downrange, they said, 'You know what, this is a strong team. Let's go ahead and institute the new policy right now.' So that's what they did."

And doing so might have presented challenges for those airmen -- and the families they would leave behind -- had it not been for the positive attitudes Doherty said each displayed when the decision came down.

"There were no real knee-jerk reactions as far as family support goes because all that work was done previously because ... there were rumblings about an expansion of the AEF. So we have kind of been preparing people so that at home, they can mentally prepare for it," he said. "There's a lot of folks who deploy away from the aviation package and they deploy on either six-month, nine-month or one-year rotations.

"So I can't tell you how incredibly proud I am of this entire 4th Fighter Wing and the 916th for the way they handled themselves during that crunch time. They did it without flinching, with a very can-do attitude."

The same attitude Doherty said will lead the Rocketeers toward success during the months they spend protecting Coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

"When you get downrange and you're part of that team and you look at the enormous amount of energy and effort ... and you see the very best America has to offer, it is motivating -- the best thing to be around," he said. "It's just a great sense to serve with other folks. It's a special, special opportunity. Their efforts ... are just phenomenal."