Sioux City, Iowa --
Over the next few months nearly 300 members of the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing are scheduled to depart Sioux City, for what will be one of the largest deployments in recent history of the unit.
The movement of Airmen from the 185th involves two separate entities. The largest part of the deployment involves nearly 200 members from 185th support units, including the Civil Engineering Squadron, Food Services, Communications, Supply, and Security Forces personnel.
Addition mobilization requests were made for members of the Wing staff from Intelligence, Public Affairs, Finance, Chaplains, and Equal Opportunity offices from the Sioux City, Iowa based unit as well as members from the units geographically separated Test Squadron in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Unit members will be leaving their homes in Iowa for numerous locations, primarily in the Central Command area of responsibility in the region of the Arabian Peninsula, which includes Afghanistan and Iraq.
These Airmen will be departing for six-month-long deployments beginning in late September through January, 2018. The deployments are part the Air Force’s prescheduled deployment period, designated as their Reserve Component (deployment) Period.
The Reserve Component Period requires the Air National Guard to provide continuous year round coverage from its 99 Wings, using units like the 185th to supply predesignated numbers of Airmen based on the kinds of jobs needed throughout the Air Force’s global areas of responsibility.
An additional 100 Airman from the 185th Operations and Maintenance groups will deploy for 30 to 120 days. These pilots and aircraft maintainers will be sent to similar locations in the Persian Gulf region, but will also support the continuous bomber presence in the Pacific Ocean at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
As part of the pre-deployment activities, during the August 2017 training weekend, deploying unit members and their families were invited to attend a Yellow Ribbon reintegration event on the campus of Western Iowa Technical Community College in Sioux City, Iowa.
According to Loni Kuhlman, the Yellow Ribbon Support Specialist for the 185th, the event is designed to educate Airmen and their families about all of the phases of the deployment while they are gone.
Kuhlman said the event is held off base and service members are allowed to wear civilian clothes in order to encourage a relaxed, open atmosphere. According to Kuhlman the program recognizes that re-integration is a three part process taking place before during and after a deployment.
“Re-integration is why we are here. We are here to support the service member and to support their family members while they are gone. We also help when the Airman comes home,” said Kuhlman.
As attendees first enter the large window lined entry area of the community college building they are met by representatives from organizations like the Red Cross the VA and Tri-Care insurance among several others. Representatives share contact information and inform service members and their families of benefits available to them as part of the deployment.
During the day’s events, all in attendance listened to a variety of speakers talk about what to expect during the deployment. Attendees also heard about ways to deal with what the presenters call their “new normal,” without their service member at home.
Because of reoccurring deployments over the past decade Air Guard units now have full time local care team members, made up of the Family Programs, Psychological heath and Chaplains offices. Each area of the care team offering services to Airmen and their family during their separation and after they come home.
Chaplain, Lieutenant Col Kent Schmidt of the 185th Chaplains office says they recognize there is a significant adjustment that takes place during a separation. Schmidt says the aim of the care team is to help everyone involved work through the process.
“We have a wide range of people who are dedicated to ensuring people are doing everything they can to ensure that our Airmen are being taken care of through all the phases of the deployment,” said Schmidt. “They are available day or night as needs arise.”
While the current deployment process has been refined through the years, according to Kuhlman programs like Yellow Ribbon allow all involved to concentrate on family care. Kuhlman said it is important because it allows the service member to better concentrate on the mission while they are away, insuring that six months from now there will be a smooth transition home again.