By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 10, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 10, 2013) -- Nine air traffic control equipment repairers with the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group returned to Fort Rucker Oct. 7 to the cheers and tears of Family members, friends and fellow Soldiers from a tour of duty to Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Special Activity Team 21, a nine-man team, was overseas for eight months, and another deployment is in the making for later this year, according to Lt. Col. Daniel Y. Morris, 1-58th Airfield Operations Battalion.
"This was our second deployment, but it doesn't get any easier, just different," said Jillian Burke, Army spouse from Bardstown, Ky. "I hope that he won't be going on another deployment for a very long time, because last time it felt like he was here one day and gone the next, it was so quick."
The team conducted 13 support missions in Afghanistan, which included assisting and augmenting 2-244th Airfield Operations Battalion, a National Guard unit out of Louisiana, for 30-day rotations. The team also conducted 12 support missions in Kuwait, resulting in a theater operational readiness rate above 90 percent for the duration of the deployment.
The 597th Ordnance Maintenance Company is Fort Rucker's most deployed unit. They are the only team in the Army that can perform their specific duty, said Morris.
"These guys have a very unique mission, and that mission is to deploy and to do a lot of the repairs for air traffic service equipment that is in theater," he said. "This mission is important because this unit and these teams are very specific. There is no one else in the Army that does what they do, and that is why they are in such high demand and their operation tempo is so high."
The unit was based out of Kuwait and accomplished many tasks while deployed.
"They trained and certified seven personnel from three different units on the ATNAVIC (Air Traffic Navigation, Integration and Coordination System) radar, DERS (Digital En-Route Supplement) and URC-200 -- all while completing (more than) 250 work orders," said Morris. "They managed contractor support parts and personnel . . . planned logistics, coordinated movements for contractors on the battlefield and also provided backup military support when needed."
Several of the Soldiers were promoted and one Soldier was selected to Warrant Officer Career College. Four Soldiers received the Army Combat Achievement Medal for outstanding maintenance support.
Sgt. Matthew Blansett, who reenlisted and was promoted while on this first deployment, said that it was a great learning experience and that it made him appreciate his Family more.
"Leaving my Family was so hard, but the first deployment is sometimes the most stressful because you don't know what to expect, or how you and your Family is going to be able to handle it," he said. "This brought me closer to them, because you don't realize what you have until it's taken away from you.
"I learned so much about training Soldiers and really what our job entails," he added.
Burke said that this deployment was different for her Family because she had to take care of her 1 ½ year-old daughter, while last time she was pregnant.
"It's so hard for him not to be there for her for important stuff such as her first birthday and her learning how to talk, and now she even knows how to count," she said.
She added that there are always a lot of challenges when loved ones deploy, but that it comes down to learning how to communicate with each other over long distance.
"You have to learn how to do everything on your own such as paying attention to all the mail, taking care of his business and his bills," she said. "There were times where he would be out in the field on missions for a month or more and we couldn't talk, but other times we talked every day or every other day. So you have to make the most of the time you are given."
Burke said that though the deployment was hard on her, it brought them closer together as a Family.
"I think that this deployment brought us closer together, because we now have a daughter and we talked to each other a lot more than when he was gone before," she said.