A commander's insight on deployment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kali L. Gradishar
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III aircrews cut through the sky. Those below raise their hands, not to rain, but to leaflets pouring from the big-bellied aircraft. The leaflets were a warning. The wings of our nation were on their way.

This was one reflection on the time Col. Thomas Sharpy, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander, spent while deployed. While only one aspect of the mission in the area of responsibility, this entity of air power stood out to him.

"The C-130 and C-17 crewmembers were incredible because they were executing drops in areas where there was an ongoing ground campaign. There was a risk to their lives, but their mission was executed with precision," said the commander, deployed as the deputy director of mobility forces. "We had a significant decrease in casualties because of the incredible execution of the airdrop."

Though the travel time was lengthy, the actual process for deployment was as efficient as it gets.

"The [Airman's Center of Excellence or AEF Cell], the value of it really became apparent to me, because I've deployed from several locations," said Colonel Sharpy. "Everything was set up to walk in there as a Fairchild Airman and walk out of there ready to go to war. We have an incredible gift in our AEF Center. I believe it was one of the best processes that I've ever seen."

Accompanying him in the center and through the deployment line was his wife, Lori. Gaining a better understanding of the services available to her and their two sons was an imperative step in preparation for the commander's deployment.

"I only wish there were more family members who were able to go through the experience with their heroes before they go off to war," said the colonel. Though there are classified portions closed to them, "family members can go through."

"That understanding and education makes them more aware of things that can help them," he added. "This is an opportunity to educate them one last time. I believe that will help our families with the stresses while their loved ones are deployed, and as you know, one of my priorities is family. We need to take care of our families so Airmen can concentrate on the task at hand."

Was it easy being away from family? No. Was it easy for the family? No. Is there a difference? Yes.

"I'd say it's even more difficult for the family. When I deployed I was able to focus on the mission, whereas my family had to deal with that four-letter word called 'life.' It's a challenge for her and for my boys - it was a big transition for their dad to go to Iraq. But their strength and support were incredible. Our Air Force does it right."

Tasked with advising command forces on all issues related to mobility, from air refueling, airlift, airdrop, cargo, and personnel, Colonel Sharpy had his hands full. There were many missions in the AOR he had his eyes on, and slow pace was unheard of.

"People may not know 70 percent of sorties, of daily missions, on the air tasking order are mobility related. So we were extremely busy and it's very complex and dynamic," he explained.

Under his watch were not only Airmen from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, but Airmen from the 141st Air Refueling Wing, 336th Training Group and Joint Personnel and Recovery Agency, all carrying the task of meeting mission requirements with efficiency and keeping mobility operations a top priority.

"As I like to say, Air Mobility is Air Power. Without it we lose. If we don't have that ability to have Global Reach, the Global Power doesn't happen," said the commander, bringing the big picture back to Fairchild. "I was fortunate to have the opportunity to deploy because it validates something that I feel very strongly about. We are a nation at war and our job here at Fairchild is to train and equip our Airmen to go to combat. Sitting at Fairchild, sometimes you don't understand the value of that. But when I got to deploy, I got to see our Airmen executing that on a daily basis."

I saw Fairchild Airmen and Airmen across our Air Force who come from different organizations, different bases, different races and different religions coming in together in the Expeditionary role, as we are all Professional Expeditionary Airmen. To see this as a member of the Air Force was great, but as a commander it was humbling," he revealed.