Unsung heroes: Airmen left behind contribute to GWOT

  • Published
  • By Col. Jerrold Flyer
  • 366th Medical Group commander
Throughout the past month more than 950 of our Gunfighters left Mountain Home Air Force Base to serve in far away places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and the United Arab Emirates. They will be away from their families and loved ones, and many of them in harms way for periods of up to one year.

Last month, the men and women of the 726th Air Control Squadron returned after a four-month deployment. There were incredible efforts made to ensure each Airman was ready to go and to address the challenges faced by those returning. There were also many tributes to all these brave men and women.

And rightfully so.

They are out there in tough conditions, laying their lives on the line to preserve our freedom. According to recent figures, more than 1 million men and women have deployed to a danger zone since 9/11. Many have gone more than once. More than 3,300 have died and more than 23,000 have been wounded. They deserve all the praise, accolades, recognition and assistance upon their return that they get.

This commentary, however, is meant to recognize another, larger group of service men and women. These are the active-duty folks who didn't get the opportunity to deploy this time. These are the dedicated Airmen who stay behind and pick up the slack for those who went down range.

These are the security forces troops and firefighters who pull extra shifts. We have flight line workers and back-shop troops who work even longer and harder to keep the jets flying. There are medics and others who must leave their regular jobs to pull various augmentee duties.

There are also services men and women who keep the dining facility and gym open despite being 50 percent manned. Then there are personnelists who ensure promotions, decorations, pay and all other information that affects each one of us (including those deployed) keeps flowing.

No, they're not in harm's way, and most get to go home to their families after work. However, their role - your role - is every bit as vital. We are a nation at war, and we all have an important part in supporting that effort.

The first time we went to war in the Gulf, I was stationed in Japan. I was commander of an air transportable hospital in charge of highly trained combat medics and ready-to-go assets. When that balloon went up, we were all chomping at the bit to deploy. But we were not given the opportunity.

Instead, my fellow medics and I, plus thousands like us, stayed in theater in case North Korea decided to test America's capacity to run two simultaneous wars. So we did our job, and the Korean peninsula remained quiet.

While there were no parades or medals for what we did, we each knew what was truly important. We had fulfilled our role in defending America's interests. We were proud to do it, and we were successful in our mission.

Today, that lesson is even more important as we find ourselves in a deadlier conflict with a front that is not only in Iraq or Afghanistan, but also in our own backyards. In all probability, terrorists will attempt to strike us at home again. It's not a matter of "if" but "where and when." We must all be ready to stop them or respond when it happens.

Service is not about recognition, medals or ribbons. It's about defending our homeland, preserving freedom and our way of life and protecting our countrymen. This requires every Airman to carry out the mission wherever the Air Force deems necessary and yes, pick up the slack for those who have gone down range.

The mission and its associated demands have not gone away or diminished at all because people deployed. If we are to prevail, we must complete the tasks our national leaders gave us regardless of how many manpower shortages we face.

A former wing commander of mine, Brig. Gen. Robin Rand, Balad Air Base commander, recently illustrated this situation by pointing out that as great a football coach as Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is, he still would not field a football team of 10 men.

That is just what we are doing at Mountain Home.

Twenty percent of our people deployed. They're doing great things over there taking care of America's business, but each of you who stayed behind is doing a terrific job also.

Mountain Home's mission has not and will not miss one step. We are still flying and fixing jets, including the 389th Fighter Squadron's transition from F-16CJs to F-15Es, ensuring our population is healthy, securing our valuable assets and we are each trained and ready to go when our country asks.

Your 366th Medical Group recognizes these efforts can increase stress for those Airmen remaining at Mountain Home. In addition to all the great programs we have for our deployers and their families, the med group is working on a number of initiatives we call "No Airman Left Behind" to address your concerns. We hope to have these ready to go in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, our primary care providers, flight surgeons and life skills experts stand ready to assist at any time, day or night should you need them. In addition the chaplain and the airman and family readiness flight also have great programs and people who are there to help.

So here's to you, the ones who stay behind, the unsung heroes. Keep up the great work and thank you. It's my privilege to serve with each and every one of you.