116th ACS Returns to Oregon

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The sun was beginning to fade over the Portland Air National Guard Base on July 20, as Airmen from the 116th Air Control Squadron filed off transport buses to a boisterous group of family and friends, waiting most of the day, for their return deployment in the Middle East.

Homemade signs, hugs, tears and cheers greeted the nearly 80 Airmen back from their four-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. "I could not ask for a better team to lead and to take to war," said Lt. Col. Gregor Leist. The unit's mission was to provide 24 hour day surveillance and communications in support of air-defense missions primarily in the Persian Gulf, and they also provided on-going support for missions in Afghanistan.

It was during this deployment that the unit had many of its members working on-scope in the control facility during the May 1, 2011 operation to raid Osama bin Laden's compound. As many of the Airmen who worked that shift recalled, with so much activity, they wondered half-jokingly that is was the Bin Laden raid underway. When the unit learned later that they were part of history, there was a brief pause and cheer, but it was business as usual the next day as the mission rolled on.

"Our primary tasking was the alert mission; we had a crew of 8 members on duty with 2-3 on scope at all times for these duties." Along with members of the 116th ACS, there were three members from the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron, Kinsley Field, Ore., who were part of the team that deployed.

During the deployment, the Airmen had a variety of assignments. Maj. Keith Townsend, a mission crew commander was assigned as an Air Defense liaison, reporting to the U.S. Air Force Central (CENTAF) Air and the combined air operations center (CAOC) and working directly with European Command (EUCOM) and African Command (AFRICOM). "About a month into the tour, a few of us got tasked with this mission in Southeast Asia."

Air Defense Liaison teams are designed to deconflict cross-fire between friendly countries and help host nations eliminate fratricide. "This was a great opportunity to engage our skill sets at a level that we were not originally prepared to do; we were thrilled to do this especially as Guardsmen," said Townsend. Most of the Airmen were assigned to the alert mission during the deployment, but the CENTAF assignment illustrated the flexibitly of the 116th Air Control Squadron.

All the Airmen from the deployment were officially welcomed home with a full demobilization ceremony on July 24, at Portland Air National Guard Base's Rosenbaum Hangar. On behalf of Gov. John Kitzhaber, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz expressed his gratitude for all Oregonians who honor the Airmen's sacrifice and service to the nation. Muniz took time to reflect on his own homecoming when he returned from the Vietnam War.

"I remember my own return from Vietnam as a young Airman and the abiding appreciation I felt for those who served alongside me. I was grateful for their service then, and I'm grateful for your service today. For your families and friends that have missed you, I proudly say, Welcome Home!" he said.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Rees, Oregon Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Bruce Prunk, assistant Adjutant General for Air and Lt. Col. Matt Andrews, Combat Operations Group Commander were also on hand to address unit members. After addressing those attending the ceremony, Rees, Prunk and De Muniz personally welcomed each Airman with state coins. They also awarded the Armed Forces Reserve Medal to Airman 1st Class Summer Cook, on behalf of her other fellow airmen, a unique honor bestowed upon the most junior member who deployed.

"This was a unique experience and one I will always remember," said Cook. Since 9-11, the 116th ACS has been the most deployed unit in the Oregon Air National Guard, yet for nearly a third of the men and women on this mission, this overseas deployment was their first.

Many of the 116th ACS members will soon be returning to their civil jobs, or going back to school. Some of the Airmen are full time members of the Oregon National Guard and look forward to some well deserved leave to catch up with family and friends. Senior Airman Miyoshi McMurry will be heading off to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to put her experience and training to use as an air control instructor.

"This entire deployment, the mission and how hard we all trained and came together was an amazing experience. At times the job was draining but working with confidence, I feel ready for the next step," she said.