by Lisa Ventriss
The birds took off 20 seconds apart on a cold night, under a pitch black sky. Night had recently become day when the air was shattered by the sounds of two cells of F16s taking off for their role in Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. Standing together on the flight line we could smell the jet fuel, hear the air being sucked in and crushed under the pressure of the engines, and feel the vibrations in our chests as the jets became airborne. It was the first time that we Honorary Commanders had ever been witness to warriors being deployed for a combat mission. The date was December 7th, 2016; 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Normally, units have months of advance notice prior to a deployment. The 158th Fighter Wing had just 30 days in which to prepare 300+ members to leave their families, jobs, and communities. And because our jets, pilots, support crews, and paperwork were the best prepared and combat ready in the country, regardless of full- or part-time status, the Green Mountain Boys became the first National Guard wing in history to be selected for such an assignment.
Earlier that afternoon we attended the deployment of the main body; Green Mountain Boys (and girls) skilled in mechanical, health sciences, intelligence, technology, and communications fields who will lend their support to the operation. As we stood beside the transport plane in a receiving line, I was struck by the diverse community of people from all across the state who reached for my extended hand as I said, “Thank you and God bless.” Though diverse, their unity is forged in their commitment to the motto, “Always Ready, Always There!”
What should not be forgotten is that the Vermont Air National Guard was already in the midst of a regularly scheduled deployment cycle when this critically urgent mission materialized. Airmen left in October, and more will deploy in January, for 6 month tours to several locations around the globe for a variety of missions. All told, there are now 400+ Vermont families who will go through the holidays and next several months without a precious member.
The separation is bad enough, but factor in that this is a combat mission and the anxieties for these families build exponentially. Please ask yourselves, is there something that you can do to support the Green Mountain Boys and their families during this time apart? If you’d like help in making the connection, please contact me.