New deployment posture adopted at Whiteman: Team youth support Operation Spirit

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- With an 8 a.m. recall, more than 90 members of Team Whiteman reported to the deployment center April 18 to prepare for their deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Airmen began processing through the deployment line at 9 a.m. receiving their IDs and stopping by the Legal Office representatives to fill out power of attorney forms for family members to take care of their pets and possessions including... teddy bears?

Upon first glance it was apparent this was no ordinary deployment line. The young Airmen, ranging from age 5 - 18, took part in a simulated deployment line in support of Operation Spirit. Operation Spirit allows children of military members to experience what their parents go through during a real deployment.

"Operation Spirit gives children an opportunity to experience what their parents go through during a deployment," said Sandi Williams, Airmen and Family Readiness Center and this year's Operation Spirit coordinator.

"It's important for us to take them out to the flightline to board a plane and see everything their parents may see," she continued. "We have never had any child say they are disappointed. I've heard them say this is the best day ever."

Upon arrival to the deployment center, each child received a t-shirt to be used as the uniform of the day, an ID card and dog tags.

Chief Master Sgt. Brian Hornback, 509th Bomb Wing command chief, made a few brief opening statements concerning the proper procedure for standing at attention when the wing commander entered and asking questions as well as a short overview of the day's events.

Following the chief's remarks, Col. Robert Wheeler, 509th BW commander, began the mission briefing by welcoming everyone to Operation Spirit. Following his opening remarks, the children witnessed a reenlistment ceremony.

The colonel continued on to give a generalized briefing of the area the children would be deploying to as well as shared photos of Team Whiteman members in deployed locations.

Colonel Wheeler continued on to talk about the different aspects of a deployment and described some of the many jobs that the children's parents perform.

Following Colonel Wheeler's briefing was a weather briefing and intelligence briefing describing the conditions the children's parents face at deployed locations.

After the briefings were finished, the children gathered into five chalks.

The young Airmen continued through the deployment processing line where their bags were checked for the proper equipment and they were given candy and other goodies from the chapel and the Airmen and Family Readiness Center.

From the processing line, they continued on to a bus to be transported to the flightline where a C-130 from the 139th Airlift Wing in St. Joseph, Mo., awaited to take them to their deployed location.

Despite the rainy weather, the young Airmen and their accompanying parents boarded the C-130 and received a tour of the aircraft to include the crew station.

Some of the young deployers witnessed a demonstration between the 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron and the 509th Security Forces Squadron about the actions taken if someone "breaks red" and enters a secure area.

Due to the weather, the Airmen received a small welcome home upon returning to the deployment center from the flight line.

As each chalk "returned home," the Airmen were brought to an awards ceremony where each Airman received a certificate and a medal for their participation in the operation and to thank them for supporting their family while one of its members is deployed.

The Airmen and their parents were provided with a lunch of hot dogs, chips and cookies provided by the United Servicemembers Organization.

Following lunch, the young deployers were able to view displays from several base units on base to include the 509th SFS and 509th Explosive Ordinance Disposal where they could handle safed weapons, control an EOD robot, sample Meals-Ready-to-Eat, see a typical living area and put on camoflage face paint among other things.

Children were also able to get up close and personal with a Humvee and a 509th SFS patrol vehicle and were able to view a military working dog demonstration from the 509th SFS.

"Your moms and dads defend our nation," Colonel Wheeler said. "We are very proud of your moms and dads and we are very proud of you being here today."

"I got to see guns and other stuff so I can learn about my dad," said "Airmen" Kyler Gallegos about the tent city set-up. "I learned that our moms and dads save our country and protect it."

For more information on Operation Spirit, call the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at 687-7132.