SOUTHWEST ASIA --
“I thought it was going to be a normal drill weekend. I was thinking about work on Monday and how I had plans with my wife and kids the next week.
“Then everything changed.”
As Staff Sgt. Christopher Tedford and his fellow Airmen of the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing gathered for a commander's call, they received the news. Their nation called.
Little did they know when that seemingly ordinary weekend began, in less than a month they would be spending their holiday season more than 6,000 miles away from their families and friends.
The 158th FW was tasked with a short-notice deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the fight against Daesh, otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Tedford, a former U.S. Marine, said he is no stranger to deployments and he volunteered to help lend a hand to his fellow Airmen, both at home and deployed.
“I hoped I could add some value and a helping hand to the newer Airmen who hadn't deployed before,” he said. “We also had a few new parents in our shop. I figured if I could let them stay with their families for Christmas, I had to go.”
For Airmen like Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Whitten, 407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron munitions systems specialist, the deployment meant more than missing time with his family – it meant putting the future on hold.
“When we got the notification for the deployment, I was preparing for medical school interviews,” said Whitten. “At first it was a little upsetting because I wanted to start school, but in the end I knew I wanted to do this and it was a great opportunity to both get dirty with some wrenches and build some bombs to support our mission.”
While most ANG Airmen receive notification of deployment up to 12 months prior to departure, the 158th FW compressed a year's worth of preparation into a few weeks.
According to Lt. Col. Brian Lepine, 407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron commander, it was an effort made possible through the support of the local community.
“Our Airmen had to drop everything to meet the mission’s requirements,” he said. “We're incredibly lucky to come from such a supportive community of employers and universities who worked with our Airmen to make sure they could answer their nation's call.”
To prepare for the arrival of the main body of the unit, a team of munitions specialists including Tedford and Whitten arrived two weeks early to lay the ground work for the mission. Once the advance team landed, the fast pace set by the short-notice deployment continued.
“As soon as we got of the flight, we were given 12 hours to acclimate, drop off our luggage and check out the base,” said Whitten. “The next day, we hit the ground running.”
Within 24 hours of arriving in the country, the munitions team set up their shop and began preparing munitions for the arrival of the aircraft and main body of their unit. About two weeks later, the rest of the unit and aircraft arrived and within 15 hours, the team's munitions were loaded and used in combat sorties. Since then, the pace hasn't let up.
“It's a lot of work here and we put in long hours,” said Tedford. “But it's worth it knowing we're making a difference.”
During their time deployed, the ANG guardsmen have worked closely with Airmen from all components of the military including supplemental guardsmen from the Alabama, New Jersey and Wisconsin Air National Guards.
“We're a melting pot of bunch of different folks working together to support our aircraft and make sure it delivers it's product on the target and complete the mission,” said Lepine. “Here we have total force integration. Traditional guardsmen work alongside active guardsmen, active-duty and reserve component members.”
According to Tedford, this cooperation is key to success.
“When you see someone in uniform, you don't know if they're active-duty or guard. You just see an Airmen,” he said. “Our job is to work together and get the mission done, and that's what we plan to do.”
For all of the Airmen at the 407th AEG, they will continue to support the fight.
“I love serving my country. That was part of the reason I came on this deployment,” said Tedford. “Some people have the image of the 'weekend warrior' who just comes in one weekend a month, then goes home. But I think it's amazing we came into an actual [deployed] environment in less than three weeks, and made this mission happen, and we're going to keep supporting our Aircraft until we're not needed here.”