Wednesday, May 23, 2012

EDITORIAL >> More airmen return home

More than 100 airmen returned to another emotional reunion with their loved ones Friday at Little Rock Air Force Base after serving several months in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Col. Brian Robinson, the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, and other top leaders at the base welcomed home the jubilant airmen before their families rushed onto the flightline to greet the heroes. They were eager to get back home, some of them having deployed overseas numerous times.

For the last decade, the tempo has been virtually nonstop for the men and women of Little Rock Air Force Base. Ever since 9/11, the base has deployed airmen overseas almost constantly, flying thousands of missions in Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf. They have saved thousands of lives by replacing road convoys that run the risk of getting blown up by roadside bombs. Airdrops are fast and efficient and have made deliveries on roads almost passé.

Robinson, like many others at the base, has served in northern Iraq. At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Robinson was the chief of the air mobility strategy and tactics team that organized the largest airdrop since the Second World War.

Robinson and other commanders on base would rather we put the spotlight on the airmen who fly into harm’s way when they deploy overseas. Today’s young airmen are part of an efficient Air Force that sends us its best airmen and officers. Many of them move on to challenging new responsibilities.

Col. Mark Czelusta, commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, which trains this country’s C-130 crews and those of 40 allied nations, also played a key role in Iraq when he led a team of approximately 190 airmen who provided combat airlift, airborne electronic attack and operations support during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Czelusta is going to the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., where he will be the commandant of the Squadron Officer College and Squadron Officers School. The campus is called “the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force” and is part of Air Education and Training Command at San Antonio.

His predecessor, Col. Charles K. Hyde, has been promoted to brigadier general and is the commander at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Col. Robinson’s predecessor at LRAFB, Col. Mike Minihan, is now the commander at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where he commands the presidential and VIP air fleet.

Meanwhile, Minihan’s predecessor, Col. Gregory Otey, has been promoted to brigadier general and will be the chief military liaison at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Credit goes to all the airmen at the base, including the host 19th Airlift Wing, 314th Airlift Wing, Guard and Reserves units. The mission overseas is winding down with hardly any casualties, for which we are grateful.

This community has supported the base for almost 60 years and hopes to see our airmen return home safely for least another 60 years. We salute you.