Preparedness, flexibility key to deployment success

  • Published
  • By SSgt Amanda Mills
  • Public Affairs
In the military, being tagged for a deployment and sent away from home to work until your turn is done has become a way of life.
The deployment process actually begins when an Airman is placed on mobility status and is assigned to an Air Expeditionary Force rotation pair. Training and medical clearance begins and is maintained until an Airman hears ... "you're tasked."
SMSgt Don Sibble and TSgt Russ Morrow, 71st Mission Support Squadron, are on mobility.
"Everyone is informed when they're placed on a mobility position and in an AEF pair," Sergeant Sibble said. "Then they find out what they need to do to prepare, such as all ancillary training (chemical warfare, Law of Armed Conflict, weapons training, etc.), getting medically cleared, if the person has dependents they review their dependent care plan, they review their (Virtual Record of Emergency Data) and (Servicemembers Group Life Insurance), just all the little things they may or may not think about."
Because of the current operations, being properly trained is a major part of preparing for a deployment. The new Battlefield Airman training at Vance Air Force Base includes most of what an Airman may encounter overseas.
"(And while training,) don't try to just qualify on a weapon," Sergeant Sibble said. "Everyone knows what's going on in Iraq. Listen to the instructor and do your best because it may save your life or someone else's. When you're in chemical warfare training, don't just sit there. It is real world out there now. Those who have been there know, this stuff counts."
"(While deployed) I remember Sergeant Sibble being told 'Look ahead for anywhere people could be setting us up for an ambush' and me being told 'Be aware of the rear and the potential targets behind us,'" Sergeant Morrow said. "So here I am a personnelist wondering 'What do I do if a rocket hits the bus behind me?' In the real world you've got all these stressors, whereas in training you're learning what to do. So pay attention."
People can get a complete list of the required and suggested mobility tasks from their unit deployment managers, Sergeant Morrow added.
"Complete that list as soon as you get it," Sergeant Sibble said. "Because when you are tagged, that's a lot of time taken out of getting ready to deploy that you can use to do things like set up online bill payments if available, prepare powers of attorney or get a will. When you're more prepared, the stress level is a little less significant."
Another part of preparation is contacting the deployed location.
"Find a point of contact and contact them," Sergeant Sibble said. "They will give you the latest and greatest on what's going on, special items to bring and what the journey to the location may entail. They'll tell you the importance of marking your bags because of the sea of green bags piled onto vehicles as Airmen board and depart planes. A deployed commander can also give permission not to bring certain items because the location already has them, lightening your packed load."
Preparation is especially important for those with families because it gives time to spend with the family and take care of what is needed while the military person is away, Sergeant Sibble said. Tasks like taking children to school might need to be rearranged, or the dependent care plan for a single parent may mean the child will need to be transported to someone in another state.
"Preparation (in general) is key to a deployment," Sergeant Sibble said. "We saw people arrive (In theater) that weren't ready, and the deployment was disastrous for quite some time until they got adjusted. They were spending a lot of time completing things (not completed at home stations) instead of focusing on the deployment. If these things are hanging, it's always a stressor."
Finally, the prepared Airman boards the aircraft that will lead him to his home for at least four months. Flexibility then begins to take place.
"You might not do what you thought you were going to do, or go where you were originally assigned to go," Sergeant Morrow said. "The orders say 'variations authorized.' Sergeant Sibble and I arrived and said 'Here's your PERSCO team,' and the commander said 'You're not PERSCO. You're the Air Force liaisons.' At an Army location, this meant we were involved in everything our Air Force members were -- we were supply, services, transportation, contractors and we pulled convoy duty -- nothing is set in stone. The key is that whatever happens, deal with it and move on."
"The Air Force Core Values always apply," Sergeant Sibble said. "We were working for the Army, so we learned their processes, got qualified in a few things we weren't prepared for and adapted to them. Because we were willing to work for them, they began to work for us."
Another reason to stay flexible is deployment length. Again, "variations are authorized" and a 120-day rotation can be extended. Stay positive to stay productive, Sergeant Morrow said.
Some other points to surviving a deployment include:
n Be aware of each service's rank structure. More locations are becoming joint environments.
n Don't paper mail bills, the system is too slow. Be patient when waiting for mail, especially if a person changes locations. A rerouted parcel may take longer than four weeks.
n Encourage friends and family to send letters and care packages. Gifts and news from home increases morale, and it may be necessary to have items not available at the location shipped in.
n When contacting the deployed location, check their voltage. Not everywhere runs 110 volts.
When the deployment is finished and the Airman arrives home, Sergeants Sibble and Morrow agree it is necessary to "ease back in" to a home station.
"Remember, things have been put in place since you've left," Sergeant Sibble said. "Don't expect them not to have, or for them to instantly change back."
Thank people in the office who have taken on the workload in an absence, and realize they've been stressed too, Sergeant Morrow said.
"Another important thing is to take your two weeks of leave and get your affairs back in order," Sergeant Sibble said. "The sooner you deal with all the returnee appointments and turn in your equipment, the sooner you can relax and try to get back into your time zone."
Sergeants Sibble and Morrow believe they made the most of their deployment because they were prepared for it and flexible during it.
"I'm not sure about returning to that kind of a deployed environment soon, but it was a learning environment overall," Sergeant Morrow said. "It was different on several levels, but it was career broadening in more ways than I would have imagined."
"We were flexible and put service before self, and I think we left the location better than it was when we arrived," Sergeant Sibble said. "People didn't want us to leave, and that was the Army. It's a good feeling to know we did a good job."