From the Frontlines: Staff Sgt. Mark Baldenegro

MAZAR-E SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN -- Staff Sgt. Mark Baldenegro, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron structures, was deployed to Afghanistan from July to December 2012. Baldenegro and his team built large area maintenance shelters at bases all across Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo)

MAZAR-E SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN -- Staff Sgt. Mark Baldenegro, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron structures, was deployed to Afghanistan from July to December 2012. Baldenegro and his team built large area maintenance shelters at bases all across Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo -- Most Airmen who deploy worry about family while they are gone. For Staff Sgt. Mark Baldenegro, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron structures, his worries primarily centered around his wife, who was in poor health before he left.

Baldenegro was deployed to Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan from July to December 2012, but had his deployment cut a month short due to the declining health of his wife.

"My wife has been dealing with health problems since before I left," Baldenegro said. "With me being gone on deployment, the stress on her increased and her health got worse, and eventually I was needed to come home before my deployment was completed."

Although Baldenegro had to worry about his wife's health, he knew he had a mission and was determined to work hard and complete each job to the best of his capabilities.

Baldenegro left on a joint expeditionary tour tasking, with a primary mission to build large-area maintenance shelters. The crew he deployed with was never trained on building LAMS, but this aspect of civil engineering became the group's forte.

"When we first arrived on base, we were tasked to build one of these based solely off of a manual, because most of us were never trained to build them," Baldenegro said.

After building their second LAMS nearly two days faster than the first, they began to receive more and more tasks to build the structures, to the point that doing so became their mission--not just for their own base, but for others, as well.

"We mainly worked on building LAMS for a new base," Baldenegro said. "Then we started to get tasking to go to other FOBs and bases to construct LAMS there, as well."

A typical day for Baldenegro involved getting to work at seven in the morning. The team conducted a meeting to organize what theirs job for the day, and then went out and worked until sundown.

"We went out there after dark sometimes if we got lights set up," Baldenegro said. "We were a hard working group that just wanted to complete the mission and meet our deadlines."

Some of these tasks were harder to complete than others, especially when the team went to other forward operating bases.

"At our base, we knew who to contact to get all the equipment we needed to complete our jobs," Baldenegro said. "However, when we went to other FOBs, they weren't prepared and couldn't always get us the equipment we needed. It made our jobs harder, but allowed us to use our creativity to come up with new safe ways to get the jobs done using fewer tools."

Baldenegro and his team knew it was important to get these jobs done as fast as possible so other shops could complete their missions.

"The LAMS we built were used for anything from a maintenance bay for vehicles or aircraft, to a dining facility for Airmen to go eat," Baldenegro said. "The faster we got our job done, the faster the whole base could get going on their missions."

This was Baldenegro's second deployment and overall he enjoyed it, in large part because of the support of his co-workers.

"Honestly, the best part was the people I went with," Baldenegro said. "They made it so I didn't hate coming to work. I really enjoyed working and didn't mind the 16-hour days, because work was just like hanging out with the guys having a good time, joking around, but still getting the job done and meeting our deadlines. These are people I would do anything for and I know they would do the same. It really made the deployment great, and if it wasn't for the situation I was faced with, I would have loved to stay and complete the job with the rest of my team."

However, while Baldenegro was gone, his team at home missed his hard work and leadership.

"Staff Sgt. Baldenegro's commitment to excellence while deployed was greatly missed here in the shop," said Joseph Schick, 509th CES structural supervisor. "His leadership and expertise have grown exponentially through the experiences and challenges he faced during his deployment. We are glad to have him back so he can share his experience with others and continue to grow as an Airman and leader in the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron."

Baldenegro was happy to come home to be with his wife, whose health has improved since his return. He believes deploying is something all Airmen should experience during their careers, and he will always remember the lessons he learned while on his.