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A simple plan

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- I will never forget the morning of Sept. 2, 2006, which was the day I deployed from Cheyenne. 

I awoke at 3 a.m., got dressed and stood in my kitchen, running through mental checklists to ensure I had planned for everything. Then I walked through my home, trying to memorize it for easy recall later. Finally, I watched my son sleep for a few minutes and said goodbye to my wife before heading out. The trip down my driveway seemed never-ending. 

From September 2006 through January 2007, I was assigned as the first sergeant to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron, nicknamed "The Mighty Eighth." 

As a deployed shirt, I saw a lot of issues that originated from poor planning and deployed Airmen not setting their families up for success. I was in constant contact with my home station first sergeants about families not having access to funds in order to pay bills or even buy groceries. 

A large number of the deployed Airmen never made any plans for their families to survive in their absence -- no powers of attorney, no bank access, nothing. This not only created a lot of heartache for the families, it created a lot of stress for the deployers. 

During out-processing for deployment, every Airman is advised by the legal office for just such planning, and although it is not mandatory, I highly recommend using their services to prevent troubles. A simple plan could alleviate a lot of hassle. 

I also received many Red Cross notifications for my unit; some of which were not true emergencies. One instance was for a "financial emergency," which turned out to be for information needed to complete a department store credit card application. This was not only an inappropriate use of the notification system, it tied up valuable resources that could have been used for more urgent matters. 

It's important to plan ahead, decide what actually constitutes a true family emergency and discuss notification procedures with your family beforehand in the unfortunate event something happens. 

Also, many deployed Airmen believe that by virtue of them receiving a Red Cross notification or having a doctor request their presence, it automatically constitutes emergency leave. This is not true. Emergency leave is not solely based on request but on certain criteria that must apply to the situation. Some of my toughest deployment times were explaining to Airmen why they couldn't go home, even though we had a Red Cross message. 

Again, it's important to review Air Force Instruction 36-3003, Military Leave Program, and understand the guidelines before leaving home. 

Overall, my deployment was a successful and rewarding experience. It was, in fact, relatively hassle free, as I had laid the pre-deployment planning groundwork before I left to provide my family with the necessary tools and information to "live without me" for 135 days. 

Even though my driveway seemed extremely long Sept. 2, 2006; by the time I reached the end, I felt comfort in knowing I had planned well to take care of my family, even though I was going to be half a world away.