Air Guard’s 290th communicators prepare for missions in ‘harm’s way’

Written by  //  August 18, 2009  //  Feature Stories

TAMPA (Aug. 18, 2009) – More than 30 Airmen from the Florida Air National Guard’s 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron (JCSS) will be going into “harm’s way” this fall as they deploy to Southwest Asia to provide communications for ongoing operations in the region.

The Airmen were honored during a pre-deployment ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Aug. 16, where Florida Air National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Joseph Balskus called the 290th JCSS the “most outstanding communications squadron in the nation last year.”

lorida Air National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Joseph Balskus (left) and 290th JCSS Commander Lt. Col. Loretta Lombard (right) present a State of Florida flag to Maj. Rick Basting (center) and the deploying members of the 290th JCSS during a ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Aug. 16, 2009. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

During the ceremony the general lauded the deploying communications experts for answering the call to service.

“If you look in the eyes of these Airmen you can see their hearts,” Brig. Gen. Balskus said. “And those hearts that you’re looking at here are hearts that are serving…when you wear the uniform, when you strap on this armor, when you become a member of the United States military – the most powerful military the world has ever seen – that means something very special.”

The general noted the Airmen would be serving throughout Southwest Asia, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You’re going into harm’s way…there is nothing easy about the task at hand,” he said. “You will be going all over the (area of responsibility).”

Brig. Gen. Balskus presented the unit with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for excellence during previous deployments from November 2006 to October 2008. During that time 34 percent of the unit deployed for a total of 8,590 days to Iraq and Afghanistan, often coming under fire during combat.

Specialists from the 290th offer voice and data communications, video or radio transmissions, and even Internet access using specialized, mobile equipment packages.

The unit, based at MacDill, deploys as small, mobile teams to provide communications services to any customer units including the U.S. Army Special Forces or the U.S. Marines.

During this upcoming mission the Airmen expect to be deployed for no more than six months.

290th Director of Operations Maj. Rick Basting noted one of the most important aspects of preparing for the deployment is making sure the Airmen’s families are psychologically ready for the absence of their loved ones.

“You’ve got to help them understand that it is a temporary situation and keep the lines of communication open at all times – the telephone calls, webcams are always great,” he said. “Last time I was deployed I was fortunate to have a webcam set up where I could almost weekly, or a couple time a week, communicate with my family and actually see them.”

Basting explained that although the Airmen may be physically and emotionally prepared for the mission, their families may not be fully ready for the separation.

One deploying Airman who is still trying to prepare his family for the deployment is Master Sgt. Thomas Martin; although this will be Martin’s fifth deployment overseas, this will be the first one which he has had to explain to his six-year-old son.

“When I was gone before he was really young so he doesn’t remember all that,” Martin said. “I think this will be the first time it’s actually going to affect him once I’m gone.”

Martin said he made a video for his son about how he will be gone, and has shown him how to flip through a calendar and count the days of the deployment.

“(I say) ‘This is one day, this is one month, and this is how many more months Daddy’s going to be gone,’” Martin explained. “I try to give him that concept of how long this time is.”

Like others in the unit, Martin has already purchased a webcam and plans to talk to and see his son as often as possible over the Internet while he’s deployed.

“My son is my main concern – how he’s going to react to it,” Martin said. “…As far as everything else: let’s go do it! I’m pretty excited.”

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