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Air National Guard reserves begin three-month Afghan deployment

  • Published
  • By Kevin Clerici
  • Ventura County Star
Climbing aboard a hulking C-130 plane, more than a dozen California Air National Guard reservists left early Thursday for a three-month deployment in Afghanistan where they will support ground troops and medical evacuations.

The uniformed and mostly male crew departed from a crowd of family and friends waving goodbye from the ramp at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in Port Hueneme.

Months in the works, the deployment was the fourth of five C-130J aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing bound for an undisclosed airbase in Afghanistan.

For some onboard, it represented their third, fourth, even fifth overseas deployment for the volunteer reserves, or "weekend warriors," who today increasingly are being counted on to fill lengthy deployments to support full-time personnel.

"We're not just protecting California anymore. Those days are long gone," said Col. Dave Bakos, maintenance group commander.

Air National Guard reserves begin three-month Afghan deployment See all
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at full size Previous 1 of 6 NextAmong their duties, the planes, which can travels at speeds of more than 300 mph and haul more than 45,000 pounds, provide medical evacuations and rapid air transport of goods and troops, which helps reduce the number of convoys crisscrossing dangerous Afghan roads.

The 146th has avoided any casualties since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a point of pride.

"But it doesn't make it an easier to say goodbye," said Noemi Reyes, wife of Staff Sgt. Michael E. Reyes, 29, a former Navy Seabee who has been to the Middle East but who was making his first deployment Thursday with the 146th.

The couple's daughter Emily starts first grade in two weeks, something Reyes, an electrician in the San Fernando Valley, is sad to miss but accepts as a needed sacrifice.

Major technology and computer upgrades to the newest J-model C-130 planes have eliminated the need for a human navigator or flight engineer onboard, but it's also made electrical experts likes Reyes who maintain those systems just as critical overseas as the pilots. "We have to go," he said. "Our roles are important."

During brief comments before the airmen boarded the dark gray plane, top officials repeatedly thanked the crew for their volunteer service, urged them to stay out of trouble and do their jobs with pride and precision.

The five planes in this deployment is the largest of a series of summer departures within the 146th Airlift Wing, which includes the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Civil Engineering Squadron and Air Terminal Operations Squadron.

Lt. Col. Sig Lokensgard said the airbase will have scores of local Afghans doing base support jobs, and the crew were given a vocabulary list with phrases in Pashto and Dari, which most of the natives speak. Those workers often return to their villages. Their experience can greatly influence the base's ties with the local community, he said.

"Treat them with respect. Learn, at the very least, how to say thank you," he said.

After the plane's roaring departure, many of the remaining families hugged and wiped away tears. They now must get on with their lives without their loved one for the next 120 days. One single father had to arrange for his kids to stay with his parents.

The Air National Guard provides family support through its family readiness unit, said Julie Morency, an airmen and family readiness program manager and a military wife whose husband has had repeat deployments. Program volunteers repeatedly check in with families during the deployment, and can help spouses navigate their military benefits and entitlements. She told those gathered to expect a gamut of emotions.

"We're here 24/7 for you," she said. "Please call us."