Deployment challenges

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg AFB is the most heavily tasked deployment installation in AFSPC and I'm proud of that fact. We currently have over 210 Vandenberg Airmen deployed, and we're preparing to send an additional 200 to combat the global war on terrorism. Though we send many of our Airmen forward to the fight, we can't forget how tough deployments can be. They challenge the Airman going down range, the family members left behind and the co-workers at home station. As we continue to train and deploy more personnel, it's important to understand what our Airmen must deal with and what the Air Force and Vandenberg is doing to help.

One of the primary causes of stress is a deployment schedule that fluctuates erratically. The Air Force has taken steps to help alleviate some of the stresses that go along with deployment schedules through a process called banding. Banding is new way of organizing and scheduling Air Force personnel for down range deployments. The AEF cycle was originally designed for relatively short term utilization. The AEF construct is not broken, but is evolving into bands to meet global demand. These bands will be based on career fields and sometimes sub-divisions within career fields. The idea is that each person will know their deployment tempo by the band they are assigned to. Each band has a specific ratio of time deployed to time at home station called "Deploy-to-Dwell Tempo" ranging from 1:5, meaning 4 months deployed and 20 months at home, to 1:1, equating to 6 months deployed and 6 months at home. The dwell time is not a guarantee, but it is a more accurate reflection of the deployment tempo each career field is experiencing. The bottom line is the banding concept gives each person a better understanding of "when" he or she will have to deploy.

Another challenge deployers face are family concerns. Family members are naturally concerned with the health and welfare of their husband or wife, father or mother. They often have questions about how long the TDY will last, what kind of conditions will they live and work in and will they be able to communicate over telephone or e-mail. Fortunately, the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Global Hearts Program are here to help. It is important for commanders, first sergeants, supervisors and peers to ensure deployers and family members are aware of the great programs Vandenberg offers such as the Deployed Spouses Dinner, lawn care, or car care.

The challenges don't stop there. Members of the deployer's unit are often left with additional work and longer hours to make up for the decrease in available manning. It is during these tough times we need to be good Wingmen. Personnel within work centers should recognize the void and share responsibility to ensure the mission doesn't suffer. Supervisors should be aware of the added stress and make an effort to identify processes that can be improved. Commanders, superintendents and first sergeants should keep their eyes and ears open so they are aware of the impact on the unit's mission and the emotional state of their Airmen. If everyone does their part, then the added challenge of losing a member to a deployment can be overcome. We all count on the Airmen who aren't deploying to guarantee the success of the 30th Space Wing mission.

The demands of wartime taskings on Airmen can be significant and a number of agencies at Vandenberg are taking steps to reduce the stresses on our returning warriors. The Airman and Family Readiness Center, Chaplain Service, and Mental Health have banded together with other agencies to provide a comprehensive reintegration program for members returning to Vandenberg. During their first week back, Airmen are assisted by a Redeployment Support Team (RST) that helps them process back into the base quickly so they can enjoy their reconstitution leave. The RST also provides our Airmen with return and reintegration information. A month later, redeploying Airmen gather for the Warfighter Resiliency Program (WRP). The WRP provides our deployers an opportunity to learn more about resources available to them. They can also share their experience with other recent deployers. Forty-five days after redeployment, every Airman will meet one-on-one with a chaplain for about 15 minutes for Spiritually Oriented Assessment and Reintegration (SOAR). During the SOAR visit, chaplains get feedback from the Airman about what was helpful and suggestions on how to improve the deployment and reintegration programs. SOAR also provides each Airman a chance to share in confidence any unresolved issues. Together RST, WRP, and SOAR provide a comprehensive reintegration program to improve each Airman's redeployment and reintegration experience.

I'm very proud of our deployed men and women, and the families and Airmen at home station that make their service in the forward area possible. People sometimes say that deployments take resources from our mission. That's simply not the case. Deployments ARE our mission. Sending folks to the fight is one of the four primary missions of the 30th Space Wing -- conducting launch, range, installation, and expeditionary operations. Whether you forward deploy or support those who do, we all support the Global War on Terrorism, and the bottom line is that everyone is equally important to the success of our warfighting mission. Thank you for what you do every day in the service of our Nation, both at home and deployed.