September 20, 2017 (by SSgt. Andrew Park) - Crowds of friends and family members gathered around a hangar looked up in awe as five C-130H Hercules flew overhead. After several months, the long wait had come to an end. Their loved ones were finally home from deployment.
A formation of five C-130H3 Hercules fly over a hangar at Dobbins ARB on September 18, 2017. The aircraft landed shortly after and family members waiting in the hangar rushed out to see their loved ones, who were returning from a deployment to the Middle East in support of contingency operations. [USAF photo by Don Peek]
Once the planes landed, crew members waived American flags as planes taxied into place, and loved ones rushed out to greet the newly arrived Airmen. Some were holding small children, while others had balloons or bouquets of flowers and signs with Airmen’s names.
Beginning Saturday, approximately 150 Airmen from the 94th Operations Group and 94th Maintenance Squadron returned from deployments to the Middle East in support of contingency operations.
“It was incredible,” said Lt. Col. Chris Gohlke, 700th Airlift Squadron commander, describing the feeling of seeing his loved ones again after returning from a four-month deployment to Qatar. “It was a very emotional day and a happy day of course.”
He said it was also nice to get back to routines and creature comforts left behind so many months ago.
“The anticipation of it all is exciting,” Gohlke said. “It helps you take stock in what you’re doing and the sacrifice all these Airmen are making over there, to leave home and do the mission, but it’s worth it when you come back and get back to your family and have that joyous reunion and see everybody.”
Deployments are an inevitable part of military life, and with that come many challenges, including leaving loved ones behind for an extended period of time.
Many of these challenges began before the deployment. As with any other long-distance trip, it was difficult at times to plan for the logistics of moving people and equipment in such a short amount of time, explained Gohlke. The same was also true for the way back.
“I almost felt like getting there and getting home were two of our biggest challenges,” said Gohlke. “Once we were there though and all those obstacles were behind us, we were cruising. We did really good things out there.”
The squadron provided tactical airlifts throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, moving cargo, patients and passengers throughout the theater. They provided support in four major areas: Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Horn of Africa and Arabian Gulf combat support, Gohlke said.
“We were also tasked to support missions into Syria for airdrop operations, which was probably one of the highlights of our deployment, that we got some combat airdrops,” said Gohlke. “We also got some combat air lands into a dirt landing zone in Syria to bring the forward most line of troops and needed supplies, weapons and ammunition. That’s something I know our crews are going to hang their hat on, something they will always remember and be proud they were able to accomplish.”
Although deployments can be difficult – be it the time away from family and friends or the difficult working and living conditions – they serve as an important opportunity for Dobbins Airmen to utilize skills they’ve learned in a variety of exercises and training scenarios held throughout the year to prepare them for supporting the mission.
“In 2016, we were extremely busy,” said Gohlke. “We did Saber Junction, Maple Flag and Eager Lion. We did all these large scale, OCONUS exercises, which required support from different agencies on base – not just operations and maintenance. I think that helped to exercise some of those relationships and capabilities so that when it came time to deploy, those were sharp tools.”
The deployers also return with a variety of skills to help them become more well-rounded Airmen, ready to support Dobbins’ mission and requirements as well.
“We gained a lot of experience from our deployment. We can bring that home and then keep that and build upon it here as well and spread it to those who didn’t get to go this time and those who come into our doors brand new, off the street and help make them better prepared for the next one.”