Monday, March 9, 2009

Oregon welcomes home airmen from Iraq deployment

Members of one of the most activated and deployed units in the Oregon Air National Guard participated in a demobilization ceremony at the Rilea Training Facility in Warrenton, Ore., on March 7.

Twenty-seven members of the 116th Air Control Squadron were deployed to Iraq from September 2008 to February 2009, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Governor Ted Kulongoski, Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, The Adjutant General, Oregon National Guard; State Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose); Oregon Representative Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach); Warrenton Mayor, Gilbert Gramson; Brig. Gen. Bruce Prunk, Commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, members of both the Oregon Air and Army National Guard, in addition to family and friends of the returning airmen, attended the event.

Brig. Gen. Prunk said the veterans were ready when their nation called, and collectively did an excellent job.

“They are an example of what I’m looking for out of the rest of the Oregon Air National Guard. I’m very proud of what they do,” Brig. Gen. Prunk said.

While 22 members provided remote radar and communications support to Balad airbase from a region known as Qayyarah, northwest of Baghdad, a five-member team worked directly with the Air Operations Center at Balad airbase.

The group was part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, 727th Air Control Squadron, based in Iraq.

Maj. Keith Townsend, Director of Operations for the 116th ACS, who was the Assistant Director of Operations for the 727th EACS while deployed, said the experience helped his airmen improve their skills for both their state and wartime tasks.

“Anytime Oregon’s airmen can go abroad, it allows us to do our state mission much better,” he said. “But in the AOR (Area of Responsibility), we are challenged in ways we aren’t anywhere else.”

Maj. Gen. Rees told the gathering that the units’ collective expertise makes them a valuable addition to any deployment.

“There are no apprentices in this organization,” he said. “When they go and participate with the Air Force, the Department of Defense knows they’re going to get top-rated people.”

He also thanked the members of the unit who stayed in Oregon, for their assistance during fierce winter storms in December, 2008.

During the ceremony, the unit was awarded the Iraqi Campaign Medal, The Air Force Expeditionary Service Medal, The Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device, and Oregon Faithful Service Ribbon with M Device, for outstanding service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Senior Airman Rick Lowe, the lowest ranking member in the unit, was presented the Iraqi Campaign Medal by Maj. Gen. Rees in front of his fellow airmen.

“I encourage other airmen to deploy, now that I’ve been there and I know what goes on,” said Senior Airman Lowe. “It was my first deployment, but it was a good experience, and a great learning opportunity.”

Senior Airman Lowe, who grew up in Florence, Ore., said the operations tempo was pretty high during the first two months the unit was in Iraq.

“We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” he said. “Our annual training is pretty laid back, but it gets a bit more serious, and busy, in a war zone.”

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon National Guard Social Media Manager

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