FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — For Maj. Jason Blanco, an Army Reserve Soldier deployed to Afghanistan, an in-person meeting he needed to attend at a different camp led to an opportunity most Soldiers don’t get while deployed: a family reunion.
Blanco was able to spend an afternoon with his daughter, Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Katrina Rutherford, a medical technician who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time with the 442nd Fighter Squadron, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
“We were deployed to two different camps, just minutes away by rotary flight,” he said.
Blanco’s sixth and most recent deployment took him to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was the senior advisor for the Train, Advise, Assist mission for his Afghan counterparts with the Construction Property Management Department, or CPMD.
“Working with the Afghanistan engineers was by far the most enjoyable part of my job,” he said. “Working with the numerous NATO allies performing the TAA mission was a great experience that I will never forget — I made lifetime friendships.”
Blanco, who works in Waynesville and calls St. Robert home, added his living conditions in Afghanistan “were great.”
“Wi-Fi was available,” he said. “We lived in the same quarters as our NATO allies, so I was able to meet new friends from different countries.”
Rutherford was “born and raised” in the Waynesville-St. Robert area and graduated from Waynesville High School in 2011. Her 90-day mission in Afghanistan was the first chance she had to put her nursing skills to work in a deployed environment — as a civilian, she’s a licensed practical nurse in Warrensburg, Mo.
“I liked getting to do things that we always talk about and practice but rarely get to actually do,” she said. “I got to live in the clinic.”
Rutherford is assigned to the 442nd Medical Squadron. She decided to join the Reserve while attending college in Springfield, Mo.
“I just missed the way being in a military community felt,” she said. “My dad was the one who immediately said, ‘You’re going Air Force’ when I brought up the idea of enlisting. I’ll hit my nine-year mark in April and I’m still with a unit that is like my second family.”
“Seeing how the different branches operated, I believed that would be the branch she would enjoy the most,” Blanco added.
Blanco said the worst part of this deployment was being so close to his daughter “yet so far.”
“With COVID restrictions, flights were limited; travel was for essential purposes only,” he said.
Blanco hadn’t seen his daughter in nearly two years, but the meeting he needed to attend at her location gave him the opportunity to board the short flight over.
“We were able to have lunch and see the A-10 Warthogs from her unit prior to me having to leave,” he said.
Rutherford called her father one of her “best friends.”
“With it being my first deployment, it was nice to get to see him and have that sense of home back,” she said.
Blanco said he enjoyed the visit with his daughter “in her professional environment doing her job.”
“It was nice seeing Katrina in uniform serving overseas,” he said. “I’m anxious to have another lunch with her soon.”