You could see it in their faces, their body language and in the way the young airmen interacted with one another.
It was predawn Christmas, outside the dimly lighted curbside drop-off area at the Spokane International Airport. Still, the group leaving on a 7:30 flight hardly looked the part of travelers who didn’t get enough sleep. They were too excited to feel that way. Most didn”t show any signs of sadness, despite leaving their families and friends instead of joining them in Christmas celebrations.
They were airmen from the Fairchild Air Force Base 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron, leaving for deployment to Southwest Asia. They were ready to get going, by way of Chicago and Baltimore and then to a place an Air Force spokesperson deemed as “classified information.”
“Anyone see a duffel bag?” one airman shouted.
“Is it green?” quipped a master sergeant, standing alongside a mountain of military duffels.
The bags were tagged Fairchild Fire Department. The airmen, about 50 of whom flew on commercial airliners Saturday morning or afternoon, were traveling to a base where they will do typical firefighter jobs such as put out structural or hazardous materials fires, protect buildings and aircraft and perform emergency medical care.
Less than two weeks ago, the squadron was told it would leave on Christmas. The deployment is not expected to be anything out of the ordinary and will last about 120 days.
“They’ve been planning it for a while,” said Col. Douglas Jackson, 92nd Mission Support Group commander, who was at the airport for the sendoff. “They’re prepared. They”re dedicated patriots.”
Col. Anthony M. Mauer, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, also spent part of his Christmas saying goodbye to the airmen at the airport.
Brian Yates, of Jackson, Ohio, like many of the airmen scheduled on the early-morning flight, is single and leaving for his first deployment. He’s been looking forward to it since before he joined the Air Force more than a year ago.
“I’m going to have fun. Spend time with the guys, meet guys from other bases,” said Yates, 20, who has an older sister in the Army and an older brother in the Air Force.
“For some of the guys, this is going to be an experience,” Yates said.
One year ago, Ross Anderson, of Seattle, spent Christmas in the Persian Gulf in Qatar. He’s ready to do more work.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Anderson said while lifting one of his duffels onto the luggage platform. “Leaving on Christmas, you’ve got to go with open spirits and make the best of it.”
While Anderson, Yates and the other single guys went about their business, other airmen, such as Staff Sgt. Dan Grimm, 29, has more invested in the airport goodbye. He and his girlfriend, Ginny Dyk, began their farewells two hours before takeoff. Hours before that, Grimm was with his three young sons, where saying goodbye doesn”t get any harder.
“All month long it’s ”Dad, do you have to go? Dad, do you have to go?” It just tears you up, but it’s your job,” said Grimm, of Idaho Falls, Idaho,
Men and women from Fairchild will continue a steady stream of deployments throughout January. Capt. Matt Hasson, a Fairchild spokesman who is deploying to the Middle East next week, said approximately 500 of the base”s 3,400 people will deploy next month.
A Christmas deployment, however, has an asterisk attached.
“People don’t realize, they’re home eating their Christmas dinners, doing this and that and we don”t stop working,” Hasson said.