Support mission takes unit to Texas, then Afghanistan

SUNDAY, JAN. 8, 2012

Some local guardsmen are going to war.

About 50 civilian-airmen from the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Civil Engineer Squadron, of Fairchild Air Force Base, will soon deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“We’re in our final preparations for mobilization,” said Lt. Col. Michael Nester, the unit’s commander, though he could not say when exactly they depart.

On the expeditionary mission, they will build temporary structures and provide improved infrastructure and living conditions for soldiers and Marines so they can perform better.

Like their ages and backgrounds, their civilian occupations vary greatly. They are truck drivers, construction workers, electricians, business owners and bartenders. They will provide skilled labor to accomplish tasks such as carpentry, plumbing, electricity and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“We have a lot of different guys with a lot of different skills,” Nester said, adding later, “That makes us pretty valuable in this theater.”

Although about 75 percent of the unit’s airmen have been deployed in the past, this is the unit’s first deployment to Afghanistan as a whole. They deployed to Baghdad in 2007. They are expected to return from Afghanistan this summer.

The squad will spread out to different forward operating bases around the country. In addition to their weapon, each will regularly haul rucksacks of half their body weight at elevations from 2,000 feet to 10,000 feet.

“Fitness is key,” Nester said. “Getting acclimated to the weather is key.”

Before deploying overseas, the unit will head to Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will undergo combat skills training.

As part of a briefing Saturday, they were shown what to do should their rifle become jammed in a firefight, but Master Sgt. Thomas Siegel said, “We hope we don’t ever have to use it.”

Overall, the airmen are excited to put their skills to use.

“We train a lot to have an opportunity to go help people out,” said Master Sgt. Kelly Williquette.

Leading up to their departure, many are spending what time they can with loved ones.

“You try to think of your family, the things that really matter to you,” said Airman 1st Class Andrew Sailors, 26.

They’ll leave behind anxious friends, family, spouses and children for a country that’s unfamiliar to them.

“They sacrifice a lot when they go,” Williquette said. “They miss graduations, miss birthdays. But they’re proud to go.”

However, the airmen say they’ll still be in good company.

“It’s good to know we’re going with such a good group,” Sailors said. “It’s amazing how quickly you grow on each other.”

Williquette, who works for the city of Airway Heights, said his wife of 22 years and three children are supportive despite the difficulties they’ll endure while he’s deployed.

“This is part of me,” he said. “This is what we do.”

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