By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 14, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 14, 2013) -- A special "fast and furious" repair activity team from the 597th Ordnance Maintenance Company returned home March 11 from a six-month deployment in the Middle East.
The eight Soldiers from the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group left Sept. 15 and were deployed to Kuwait, but worked in Afghanistan as well, repairing and replacing air traffic services equipment, according to Lt. Col. David Brooks, executive officer of 164th TAOG.
"This is the 10th year this unit has deployed straight; altogether it has been since 1996. Its one of the longest enduring missions in the entire Army, and this company is the only company in the Army to do this mission," he said, adding that the detachment has already been replaced in theater.
The Soldiers traveled to different tactical airfields to inspect the equipment to ensure that it was in good working order, according to CW4 Steven Hess, detachment officer in charge.
"The ATS equipment is in the air traffic control towers, and they deal with radar systems and light controls for the airfields themselves," he said.
The company accomplished many things while away, but one stands out above the rest.
"Not only were they able to accomplish their task, but two of the Soldiers, Spc. Wigetes Ho and Sgt. Armando Frias, won Soldier and NCO of the Year for the brigade," said Brooks. "In between fixing equipment and accomplishing their mission, they were able to study and attended the board and they won."
The competition was brigade wide where participants were quizzed on Soldier and NCO skills, said Hess.
"They did the board via teleconference and we were worried about the connection being lost, but everything went smoothly," he said.
The Soldiers had to multitask to accomplish this by studying during free time in between missions. And serious multitasking, according to Frias, is something he mastered while away on this first deployment.
"It felt great winning NCO of the Year for the brigade. I studied so hard, it is a great accomplishment for me. It was hard to balance studying for college classes and for the board while I was working and out doing missions. I was doing nothing but studying for over two months," he said.
But the real highlight of the deployment for the Soldier had nothing to do with awards or celebrations.
"We were sent out to an Air Force airfield and our task was to help them with their airfield line system. They were told they needed to buy new ones, which would have cost at least $65,000. We basically looked at their scrap pile of lights and repaired as much as we could with it," said Frias.
According to Frias, the detachment was uncertain if they could complete the task but that they were able to replace most of the lights and that it was a great accomplishment for the entire team.
This homecoming was extra special for Brooks for he had just returned from a deployment himself last month.
"I spent time during my deployment with these folks and it is bittersweet when you leave people behind when you redeploy and they have to stay. So we came full circle tonight and closed that gap with them returning," he said.
Spouses were thankful for the return. Grisel Castillo, spouse of Spc. Bernardino Castillo, said she tried to make the days go by by having a routine and taking it day by day.
"If I planned too much ahead, I realized, 'Man I have so long to go,' so I did a lot of things with Army Community Service and Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation to keep busy, but the last two days have been the hardest," she said.
This was Castillo's first deployment and the couple was told the day that they arrived that he would be deploying.
"It was a shock at first, but we thought, 'Better sooner than later.' It was a little difficult settling in because I had to learn about the things on post and in the area by myself," she said, adding that she was glad that the support system is so strong for military Families here.
Brooks thanked Col. Douglas M. Gabram, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker deputy commander, for coming out to the homecoming and for the support the detachment received from USAACE.
"USAACE always opens their arms for us and makes us feel like one of their own. They always include us and are happy to receive us. I am so thankful for all the help with the 164th TAOG, our sister units and supporting units," said Brooks.