CLEARFIELD — As the United States aims to bring more troops home from war in the next year, it's still a fast pace of deployments for many Utah soldiers.
Nearly 200 airmen left Friday from Hill Air Force Base Friday to the Asia-Pacific region for six months as part of a joint deployment for Hill's active duty 388th Fighter Wing and Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing. The pilots, maintainers and support personnel will provide F-16 air support.
The two fighter wings have been deploying side by side since July 2007, when the units began flying and maintaining a fleet of F-16 aircraft as part of an initiative dubbed Total Force Integration. TFI seeks to enhance combat capability by capitalizing on the unique strengths of the active duty and reserve components.
Both fighter wings have fought extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 388th – the busiest F-16 unit in the Air Force – has seen more than 4,000 active duty personnel take part in 15 major deployments since 2002.
The 419th has seen 3,000 airmen deployed in the last 10 years. They were the first F-16 unit to fly into Afghanistan in 2001 and the first into Iraq in 2003.
"It's a challenge to leave your kids at home and your wife,” Lt. Col. Paul Schulze, 421st fighter squadron commander, said. “The older your kids get, the more they understand about why you're gone, and when they're young, you miss the milestones, the walking the talking, that can be a challenge."
Schulze has been deployed eight times in the past decade and says while it’s a challenging job, it’s also rewarding. “We get to go do a lot of good things and help a lot of people elsewhere, and that’s a good experience.”
While these airmen are not deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, it doesn't mean they won't be called upon to deliver war power from the air.
Fighter pilot Maj. Dave DeAngelis will be providing air support for any operation that needs them. “Whatever our country needs from us, we’re happy to go deploy whenever they need us to,” he said.
He carries pictures of his wife and 15-month-old son on his phone. His little boy walked for the first time last week, a milestone he feared he might miss.
“The biggest challenge is for my wife,” he said. “She’s at home taking care of our son, and I have the chance to go to our deployed location and fly F-16s.” He said he looked forward to talking to his family via Skype.
DeAngelis has been deployed three times with his job. “Kim Jong Il shelled an island 10 months ago, so we’re there to respond if anything heats up there,” he said referring to North Korea. They will also be there as a deterrent to any future conflicts.
“If there’s dangerous people out there and they need somebody to stop," he said, "we’re here to provide air power.”