VIEW FROM THE TOP: Preparing for deployment

  • Published
  • By Col. Karl McGregor
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing
As many of you know, I am preparing to deploy to Afghanistan later this summer. Here, I want to share some details about what I'm going to be doing on deployment and how I've been preparing.

My deployment is six months long and I will be the deputy to the air component element for Afghanistan. The element is responsible for airspace, Air Force training and all Airmen in the theater. Where I will be working, there will be troops from all branches of services, but it is predominately an Army headquarters. There are also Afghan and multinational forces assigned there.

One of my biggest challenges will be to rapidly learn the job and develop the battle rhythm necessary to operate for long stretches without losing effectiveness. I'm looking forward to learning "Army speak," working with diverse cultures and contributing to our national objectives.

My last full deployment was in 2004, while I was stationed at Westover Air Reserve Base. During the deployment, I was an operations group commander at a base in Southwest Asia, where I had the opportunity to lead a 34-aircraft group of mostly C-130s during a time when mortars were dropping and winning in Iraq was an open question.

The group was all Guard and Reserve and I saw crews and maintainers perform incredible feats just getting airborne every day in the extreme desert conditions. Temperatures at 140 degrees and sandstorms were not uncommon and neither were aircraft experiencing missile and mortar attacks while in theater.

I had been selected to deploy as the Deputy Director of Mobility Forces in 2010 while commanding the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, but the PCS move and looming compliance inspections here at March took precedence.

For my upcoming deployment, my focus is in preparing the wing so there's no impact when I'm gone. I will be leaving the wing in Col. Mary Aldrian's very capable hands. She will be here on full-time active duty orders and the wing's excellent leaders will be giving her their full support.

I am confident we have good processes in place to keep the wing running without skipping a beat. Whenever we have a hole in the machine, we share the load among the remaining members, and I expect that to continue to happen. During my deployment from Westover, my deputy and executive officer were supported by everyone in the entire group to make sure my responsibilities were covered.

Although my focus has been on the wing, I have also been completing my personal pre-deployment requirements. I've found, at times, it is difficult to know what you actually need in order to successfully deploy; the deployment instructions can be a bit dense. In fact, I don't believe anyone could decipher the requirements without a unit deployment manager and a law degree!

Thankfully, my UDM has helped translate my deployment instructions and I was also able to call ahead to my duty section in Afghanistan. They gave me a short lesson in what was actually needed.

For March Airmen who have upcoming deployments, I recommend starting deliberate planning as early as possible. Complete your wills and powers of attorney first, then plan out your computer based training and other just-in-time training as early as possible, while still being inside the eligibility window.

Get your uniforms and other items on order ahead of time so they don't cause you any stress as your departure date approaches. Visit the military personnel flight and get the latest information on benefits, because things do change.

When I leave for deployment later this summer, I will swing through Fort Dix, N.J., for combat training. I'm looking forward to the field work, as it's been a while since I've been allowed to carry a rifle. The training is a couple of weeks long and, as a career pilot, I expect the convoy training will be most valuable for me.

My family has gone through several geographic separations and deployments over the years, so they are well-prepared for this latest deployment. The more austere conditions in Afghanistan will be a challenge, but the connectivity that exists now eases some of the concern.

While I'm away, I'll miss both of my sons' birthdays--Keegan's 20th and Kolin's 16th. March's new running track will likely open while I'm away. When I get back, we'll have a second grand opening and take the boys on vacation to make up those events! I'll also be missing the Air Force Marathon for the first time in five years. I plan on running my half marathon either on the treadmill or inside the compound at the same time that team March is on the course.

From the newest Airman to the wing commander level, deployments are a way of life in the Reserve. Just as I am planning for the wing's operation in my absence, Airmen across the wing do the same thing as they prepare to leave their positions.

Deployments can be challenging on many levels, but they offer a great opportunity for personal growth and career enhancement. With the right preparations, the stress of many of these challenges can be reduced, which will leave the deployer free to focus on what's important as they ready their life in the U.S. to run on autopilot while they're gone.

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