October 6, 2009 (by SSgt. John Gordinier) - Hundreds of Airmen and more than 10 F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron Tigers deployed this week in support of NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
A1C. Justin Montanez, 20th AMXS chief (lower right), helps Capt. Paul Perry, 79th FS pilot prepare for an early morning launch F-16C block 50 #01-7052 on October 7th, 2009. The 79th FS is the first fighter squadron of Shaw's 20th FW to deploy to Afghanistan.
It was the first cold and rainy October morning.
Airmen gathered in Hangar 1200 here in their final moments before deployment. Some spent those last moments with their loved ones saying goodbye. Rows of deployment bags filled the hangar.
Each bag was the same as its neighbor except for a distinct color of duct tape along the side or a gimmick like a bandana tied around the handle so Airmen can tell one bag from another.
It was exceptionally hard for some Airmen, such as one I spoke to who was saying goodbye to his spouse and 8-month-old son. This is his first deployment.
"I am definitely going to miss them," said Airman 1st Class Jon Cressler, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron sheet metal and corrosion technician. "They were here to see me off and it was hard to say goodbye. On a brighter side, I am looking forward to the extra money that I'll make while over there as well as receiving some great experience in my job."
Airman Cressler isn't the only one looking forward to the experience; many Tiger fighter pilots are as well.
"Only a handful of the pilots deploying have deployed previously," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Ekman, 79th FS
commander. "Most, if not all, see this as an opportunity to put their skill and all of their training to the test.
"Rest assured, the Tigers are ready for this deployment," Colonel Ekman continued. "When we are not deployed, we constantly train for deployment through combat skills and exercises to ensure we're ready when called upon."
After many hugs and tears, the Airmen picked up their carry-on luggage and boarded the buses that took them to the aircraft to begin their journey. The 79th FS
Tiger pilots and F-16s followed days later. The flames of the afterburners lit up the early morning sky as they headed to Afghanistan.