JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) --
Every Airman has their own deployment story, whether they’re about to retire and haven’t deployed once or are a junior Airman deploying for the third time in three years.
At McChord Field, Airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing, along with other C-17 Globemaster III bases within Air Mobility Command, were sent on a rotation to be a part of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in what is known as the EAS Swap Out.
“The 816th is a compilation and a melting pot of all the units in AMC,” said Lt. Col. Patrick McLaughlin, 816th EAS commander. “It is a team affair that requires a lot of synchronization amongst not only the 816th EAS, but also the 379th [Air Expeditionary Wing], our host wing, and the home station.”
Periodically throughout the year, the expeditionary squadron receives a turnover of pilots, loadmasters, flying crew chiefs, security force Ravens, communications and intelligence Airmen. It’s an exhausting week-long process for the air crew doing the swap, but brings new Airmen with fresh eyes and spirit to continue the 816th EAS mission while bringing home the ones who carried the mantle before them.
“What’s really great is seeing the energy they have when they come into the squadron, seeing the new people, and then all of the energy [from] people leaving because they are happy to be going home,” McLaughlin said. “I hope they get a sense of accomplishment that they did it, and the people coming in, I hope they have a curiosity on whether they can do it.”
Despite a 16-hour long day traveling from the east coast of the U.S. to Al Udeid, no time is wasted getting the new deployers in-processed and spun up on the mission they will need to accomplish over the next several months.
“Once the new folks arrive, they get in-processed the following day,” said Master Sgt. Scott Salamony, 816th EAS first sergeant. “Over the next three days, there’s a little on-the-job training. Some of the people who just got here are already getting ready to fly [the next day]. That’s just how we get them spun up on the operations over here.”
Deploying can be a nerve-wracking experience, but this iteration had a married couple from the 8th AS deploy at the same time. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Grant Smart, 8th Airlift Squadron operations flight chief, who was on his fourth deployment, was accompanied by his wife, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dixie Smart, 8th AS loadmaster, who deployed for the first time.
“I was a spouse before I joined, so I’ve been on the other side of the deployment.” said Dixie Smart. “This is my first time deploying as active duty. I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie. [Having someone who has deployed before], it’s alleviated a lot of stress.”
According to McLaughlin, if Dixie Smart remembers everything she learned at McChord, she won’t have anything to worry about while deployed at Al Udeid.
“What they do at home station matters to [prepare] them for what’s coming out here, especially in a world that’s becoming more dynamic and complex,” McLaughlin said. “It requires people to be more adaptable and pliable and we’ve seen that hunger to be good.”
The 816th EAS plays a vital role in operations undertaken in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and more, by providing airlift capabilities.
“Our entire mission is to provide intra-theater airlift within [Allied Forces Central Europe],” Salamony said. “Seventy percent of the airlift comes through here.”
Having completed their mission, the deployers returning home have a few long days ahead of them, but at the end they will be able to see their friends and families, and sleep in their own beds knowing they accomplished something.