96 airmen to deploy from Grand Forks Air Force Base in April

Feb. 24—GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE — Ninety-six airmen from the 319th Reconnaissance Wing will deploy overseas in April in support of the unit’s surveillance and global communications responsibilities.

The airmen will be stationed at 20 different air bases for four to six months in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, according to wing commander Col. Tim Monroe.

It’s the second time members of the unit will deploy en-masse like this since the Air Force adopted a new deployment model, dubbed Air Force Generation, or AFFORGEN.

Past operations over the last 20 years usually deployed a handful of airmen at a time with a few weeks’ notice.

“For a lot of what we did for (Operation) Enduring Freedom, (Operation) Iraqi Freedom, so much of our deployments going out the door, Air Force-wide, were ad-hoc,” Monroe said. “It was one person or two persons, and it wasn’t as disciplined and structured as what we’re trying to do today.”

The airmen, who comprise a “very diverse” set of specializations, will support the unit’s operation of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane and the Air Force’s high-frequency global communications system.

For many of the airmen, it is their first overseas deployment; many will be placed in areas designated combat zones by the Air Force.

They will take over, in effect, from a prior deployment of the 319th that left Grand Forks Air Base in October; that group is set to return in April.

The soon-to-deploy airmen gathered Friday at Grand Forks Air Force Base for a briefing from Monroe and unit command chief Chief Master Sgt. Carl Vogel.

The briefing was one part pep talk and one part support seminar, as Vogel encouraged airmen to rise to the challenges they’d face during their deployment while also reminding them to capitalize on support services offered by the Air Force before they departed and to remain connected with their families during their time abroad.

“Life still happens here, and I guarantee you, a whole lot of life is going to happen while you’re gone,” Vogel told the airmen.

The deployment briefing was also a novel concept, at least in the time Monroe and Vogel had served with the 319th. Families of airmen were also invited to attend, and after the briefing, airmen could meet with legal, financial, and mental health staff both to get their affairs in order prior to deployment as well as for when they returned.

Heather Fors, director of the Military Family Readiness Center at the air base, was there, for instance, to assist spouses and families when their service member was abroad.

The Readiness Center offers events like monthly dinners for spouses and dependents of deployed airmen and a program that offers free child care once a month.

“It’s not just the military members that serve, it’s the whole family that serves,” Fors said.

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