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Deployment: fulfilling your professional obligation

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- I recently returned from a 127-day deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. This having been my first deployment, I had no idea what I was getting into. 

I quickly learned and adapted to the new-found stress. I was the superintendent of the force protection flight - a group of 132 Airmen from 62 different career fields brought together to provide a first line of defense against intrusion of potential terrorists or hostile activities. 

Our mission was to search and monitor more than 300 local and foreign contractors providing essential support services and critical infrastructure construction throughout the base. Some of these activities included custodial workers cleaning various facilities around the base, construction workers paving projects on the flight line, masons building sidewalks and contractors building dormitories and renovating the dining facility. 

This opportunity proved much more difficult than I had anticipated. Not so difficult was the day-to-day activities, but the new environment and operating within the construct of the aerospace expeditionary force model meant that nearly everyone on base was new all at the same time. 

There were 13 permanent-party billets at my assignment, and the security forces members were on six-month rotations. Everyone else, the other 2,000 or so Airmen, were all-new, rotating in on AEF 3/4. 

Imagine just for a moment, everyone on base is new at the same time. Finance, services, maintenance, operations, medical, communications, civil engineering, contracting - every piece of daily life with the exception of security forces is new. Of course, under this concept, every third AEF rotation brings in new security forces at the same time as everyone else. 

With this great influx and turnover of new personnel, it would be naive to think there wouldn't be discipline problems or significant personnel issues to deal with. I know I was naive when I first arrived. That perception quickly changed. 

Airmen that had financial difficulties before they deployed still had financial problems while they were deployed. Airmen that had family problems before they deployed still had family problems while deployed. These problems just compounded and festered due to the time difference, distance of separation and lack of open communication with the home unit. 

Dealing with these issues as a leader is no different than dealing with similar issues at home station until you factor in the same difficult circumstances. 

In today's high operations tempo, it is important to understand that accepting the responsibility to serve on an operational deployment is not a personal fulfillment; it is a personal and family sacrifice in support of the mission - the big-picture mission of defending the national interests of the United States of America. Service to your country is much greater than any individual and the Air Force core values must be your compass to guide your leadership towards the accomplishment of the mission. It is defending our freedom and way of life. It is living up to the commitment of an obligation incurred by the oath of enlistment "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic." 

Deployment supports the greater good of the foundation of American principles; good people making a great nation. Deployment fulfills your professional obligation to the citizens of the United States of America.