Expeditionary Update: Team Vance deployment support in 'reserves'

  • Published
  • By Frank McIntyre
  • Public Affairs
Maj Homer Nesmith is a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves and proud of it. But he isn't what most people think of as a "weekend warrior."
Like many other members of the 5th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, Major Nesmith serves full-time on an active Guard and Reserve (AGR) tour in what is known as the Reserve Associate program.
Like members of the other flying training squadrons on Vance AFB, Major Nesmith and his fellow reservists in the 5th provide support directly related to the flying mission of the 71st Flying Training Wing - training student pilots.
But for Major Nesmith, duty isn't limited to flying over Oklahoma instructing a student.
Late last summer when the 71st received a short notice tasking for a deployment, Major Nesmith volunteered for the assignment.
"The tasking came on a Friday, and by the following Monday I was slated to fill it. It saved the 71st from taking someone directly out of the wing as well as providing an opportunity for me," he said.
"Our guys routinely step up and fill deployment taskings, not only for the Reserves, but as in this case for the 71st FTW," said Lt Col Jerry Kirchner, 5th FTS director of operations.
So the instructor pilot left the planes on the Oklahoma plains for Djibouti, Africa.
"When I arrived in Africa on Aug. 31, the heat index was 135, making the Oklahoma summer heat seems pretty mild by comparison," Major Nesmith said.
He has been at Vance AFB for five years, the last two as a member of the 5th after changing from an active duty Marine instructor pilot to the Air Force Reserves.
In Djibouti, he was assigned to the future operations office at Camp Lemonier as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. CJTF oversees operations in the Horn of Africa for U.S. Central Command in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
"Camp Lemonier is an 88 acre base on what was formerly a French Foreign Legion post. It was completely enclosed and fortified and was home for about 1,800 people," the major said. "All branches of the U.S. armed services as well as coalition military members were assigned as civilian contract personnel."
Eight-man air-conditioned tents were home for the camp's contingent.
"Hot water for showers was never a problem there. We had a choice of hot or extra-hot water; cold water became the shower luxury."
Major Nesmith said although the mission for the CJTF was anti-terrorism, the task force was being proactive in helping create stability for the governments in the Horn of Africa area.
"Where others have gone in with candy for the kids, we have gone in with dentists for them. There are hospital and veterinarian teams addressing the health of the residents, as well as civil engineering teams rebuilding roads and improving the area's infrastructure," the major said.
"In addition to Djibouti, where the task force is based, we were also responsible for Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen, as well as the airspace and coastal waters of those areas."
"That was the most interesting part of the assignment, going throughout the area to see improvements being made for the basic lifestyle of the residents.
"It was a welcome break from being in a windowless closet-sized office with two other people.
"With the lease of the camp guaranteeing our continued presence, the residents are optimistic about improvements in their country."
Much of the time on liberty to the base's neighboring town was spent at the area's three orphanages - one each for babies, girls and boys.
"We would visit them a couple times a week, taking whatever we had to share with them. School books and supplies were rare so we were able to provide some of those."
But it wasn't just the orphanages that benefited by the task force's presence.
"We found a school with only boy students. Come to find out the reason no girls attended was because the latrines were too filthy and avoidance of them meant an avoidance of school. The latrines were redone and now the school has an equal population of girl students."
The task force mission also involved training the military of the neighboring countries. This training made for one of the major's more memorable experiences.
"We were working in Kenya with Navy Seals and the Guam Army Guard training members of the Kenyan Navy to do shore patrol. But before they could do that they needed to learn to swim.
"With all parasites and predatory animals around water bodies there, swimming isn't a common diversion for the young. So the Kenyans we were training had no experience with even recreational swimming. They would jump into the pool, immediately sink to the bottom and just assumed that was the end. The instructors would have to jump in and pull them out of the pool before lessons could start."
The deployment was a welcome experience for Major Nesmith.
"I like flying and teaching but its nice to get away from the training environment into a different real world mission. For the family's stability I like my job with the 5th, but an assignment like this allows me to be a bit like Peter Pan," said the married father of four.
"The separation wasn't as bad as it could have been, thanks to technology. Between the Internet access and Defense Service Network calls we had, I was able to stay in touch with my family on almost a daily basis."
jibouti was the major's second deployment as a member of the 5th FTS. In 2003 he was assigned embassy duty in Cairo, Egypt.
And the 5th is as glad as the major's family to welcome him back.
"We are very proud of Major Nesmith's sacrifice and contribution to our country," Lt Col David Clark, 5th FTS commander said. "Maj Nesmith's deployment is an excellent example of the Total Force concept and his efforts further solidify the 5th Flying Training Squadron as a significant member of Team Vance."