Deployments help Airmen develop, grow: Members battle stress, loneliness in foreign lands

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Watching morning talk shows while you're getting dressed or reading the local paper while enjoying a cup of coffee isn't an option, and coming home at night to an excited dog and anxious hugs from loved ones just doesn't happen.

Though deployments offer Airmen a chance to live in a foreign country, experience new things, get totally immersed in the mission and make new friends, it also means dealing with being away from family, the material comforts of home and living and working in the proximity of the enemy.

Understandably, Airmen experience the full range of human emotion during their four to six months away from home.

For Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bailey-Boateng, 62nd Comptroller Squ-adron, the uneasiness leading up to her deployment to Southwest Asia lasted until she boarded the plane. But once she set foot on the aircraft, she changed her thinking.

"I think once I realized that I was no longer in control of the situation, I was forced to relax my mind and rely on my faith," Sergeant Bailey-Boateng said.

Senior Airman Charles Minatrea, 62nd Maintenance Squadron, said he was excited to learn new things while he was deployed.

"Whenever you're deployed, you learn a lot more," Airman Minatrea said. "There's stuff you learn about that they can't teach you back at home -- you have to see it for yourself."

But while triumphs on the job can lift Airmen up, the sadness and loneliness of being away from family can take its toll.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Lengele, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron, returned from a five-month deployment to Iraq in February 2006. While he was deployed, his wife totaled her car and Sergeant Lengele said he felt helpless when she was crying about the accident to him over the phone.

"It's tough because you're not there to help," he said. "You're her confidant, and in that situation there's nothing that you can do."

Each went through different ways of dealing with missing loved ones. Sergeant Lengele said he relied on the people he worked with to fill the gap. Eating well also helped, he said.

"The king crab they served on Wednesdays was great," he said.

In addition to feelings of loneliness and working through stifling desert heat, there's always the constant threat of being exposed to enemy fire.

Even though most Airmen don't venture out beyond the wire, there is still the possibly of an encounter with enemy fire, whether it be an improvised explosive device or an incoming mortar.

After a mortar struck the sleeping quarters of one of Sergeant Lengele's fellow Airmen while he was in his bed, he said that night he put on his Level Four Interceptor Vest and tried to go to sleep.

"It was like trying to sleep on a table with your head hanging off," Sergeant Lengele said.
Through it all, he said you just have to press on and not worry.

"There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "You just have to focus on the mission every day." 

Despite the adversity, deployment can be a character-building experience, Sergeant Bailey-Boateng said.

"The time away is what you make it," she said.

"I learned a lot about myself out there. I know first-hand that the service I provided eased stress and financial burdens for our guys on the ground. The guys made it clear that they truly appreciated the work that I did. My understanding of more aspects of my career field was increased, along with the nitty gritty of the mission itself."