Far from Home, Still a Family

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142FW Public Affairs
February 3, 2011 -- Overlooking one of the highest points at Camp Rilea, radar and communications equipment from the 116th Air Control Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard are providing surveillance and intelligence as part of their daily mission.

The airmen who are responsible for collecting the data and communicating with U.S. military aircraft are also preparing for their units largest ever deployment of personnel in March, 2011.

In total, there will be more than 80 Airmen from the Oregon Air National Guard mobilizing in support of Air Forces Central Command (CENTAF).

For many airmen in the 116th, this will be their first deployment. The ongoing training over the past several weeks has introduced them to some of the most state-of-the art equipment used as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The pre-mobilization training is utilizing the in-theater system, Battle Control Center-CENTAF, otherwise known as the BC3. This is smaller, lighter and altogether different than the everyday equipment used by the airmen in Oregon.

One of the newest battle staff managers soon to set out is 2nd Lt. Wayne Doyle, who is finishing more than a year's training to upgrade his skills prior to joining the unit on their deployment.

"We have to ascertain incoming threats so we can split the air space, to get both a clear picture of what is happening and then be able to talk to the fighter jets and air tankers while they are in their missions," said Doyle.

This will be both the largest unit and operations section deployment undertaken by the 116th ACS.

"Everyone in the unit is currently going through a rapid learning curve and a big focus right now is getting our younger airmen the hands-on training they need before they leave."

Training has always been a part of Doyle's life as he was teaching High School math and coaching track prior to joining the 116th ACS shortly after September 11, 2001. Several of his students are now young airmen in the unit and will be deploying with their old teacher.

"Everything we train to do is about protecting and saving lives," said Doyle.

The leaders taking many of these younger Airmen have seen many deployments over the last decade. Chief Master Sgt. Bob Birman has been deployed on a number of CENTAF missions, but on this deployment, his son Staff Sgt. Tyler Birman will be making his first tour out of Oregon. As the operations superintendent, Chief Birman will have the opportunity to share a unique experience in a deployed environment with his son.

"I am ecstatic to be able to do this mission with my son as this is something I wanted to be able to do with Tyler before I retire", said Chief Birman.

As for Staff Sgt. Birman, his job in computer maintenance will keep him busy and make the time pass with quicker with his dad as a helpful guide.
"When I am able to 'Skype' back home, I know that seeing my own wife and children will allow my dad to see his grandkids at the same time," said Staff Sgt. Birman. "I think my mom is both relieved and worried that we both are going together on this mission too."

It is another unique element of the Guard, when family members can deploy and work together in the same unit and draw upon each other for support and experience. The 116th will also be sending a husband and wife team on this deployment.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle Lowe and Staff Sgt. Richard Lowe spent their last deployment working in Afghanistan and "hanging out" on their down time together. They married a year and half ago and will have to spend this deployment like their last one - in separate living arrangements. Unlike Army married couples, the Air Force regulations forbid married personnel from living together during deployment.

"We have been really professional about it and found ways to spend time together and still maintain our professional standards," said Tech Sgt. Lowe. A traditional guardsman, she is a high school counselor and will be sharing her experiences with her students with emails and web update.

Their pre-deployment training had them both together on the rifle range at Camp Adair earlier this month, qualifying with their weapons and being ready to meet the added stress of deployment.

Staff Sgt. Lowe is a full time member of the 116th and knows from past experience that having his wife and friend at work each day will bring them closer.

"We find humor in our situation so we try and make it fun when we have time together," said Staff Sgt. Richard Lowe.

"Probably this biggest worry of us being gone is the 'Dog Issue' we have", said a laughing Tech Sgt. Michelle Lowe.

Family issues are always a part of any deployment so the Yellow Ribbon events have been a marked change from the past. The pre-deployment event recently held at Camp Rilea, have been useful to help Airmen old and young organize their finances, military benefits and families for their time away from Oregon.

Lt. Col. Gregor Leist, 116th ACS Commander, said the Oregon airmen are ready to take on this mission to support the ongoing contingency operations in the Middle East.

"We're grateful for the shared sacrifices that the employers, family and friends make during our deployment," said Leist. "The ongoing training allows our people to be ready to support this operation and will be a chance for our younger members to be part of this real-world assignment."

The 116th ACS four-month deployment will separate children from parents and employees from their jobs. In many cases some airmen will put school plans on hold yet will come away from the experience with an education and training that can be drawn upon after they return.

The citizens of Oregon can rest assured that the men and women of the 116th ACS will put their mission first as they build upon the knowledge gained to support Operation Enduring Freedom.