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News > 8th ASOS Airmen reunite with family, friends
8th ASOS Airmen reunite with family, friends

Posted 12/3/2010   Updated 12/3/2010 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Eric Chapital
8th Air Support Operations Squadron

12/3/2010 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Sixteen Airmen with the 8th Air Support Operations Squadron returned home Nov. 22 after being deployed for a year in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team "Sky Soldiers" stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

These battlefield Airmen endured some of the most hostile enemy territory while supporting essential combat operations in Afghanistan. During their deployment, Tactical Air Control Party operators were involved in more than 500 troops-in-contact events and requested more than 2,000 hours of air support. Their efforts and expertise earned the praise and trust of their Army counterparts unequaled in past deployments.

"These were the best (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) I've ever worked with," said Maj. Steve Williams, 1-91 Calvary operations officer, who worked alongside the Airmen downrange. "I can't count the number of lives they saved."

Such praise was well earned by the 8th ASOS returnees, as they were constantly called upon to support outside-the-wire operations, which placed them in dangerous situations on a daily basis. The TACP conducted up to 50 percent more outside-the-wire missions than their Army counterparts because they are only manned to support a battalion, yet they consistently supported company and platoon-level missions. The relationship forged with their 173rd ABCT brethren was apparent as every leader made it a point to shake the hands of the Airmen.

The emotional homecoming of the 8th ASOS operators was encompassed with the return of 175 Sky Soldiers, as these unsung heroes were met by more than 400 spouses, children and fellow military professionals in a "show of force" comparable to a mini Mardi Gras parade.

Capt. Walter Ehman, the senior TACP on the year-long deployment, was anxiously greeted by his wife and two small children.

After a loving reunion, the captain's wife, Abbey, jokingly commented about the top priority on her "honey do" list.

"First of all, that cheesy mustache is coming off," she said.

Mrs. Ehman, like everyone else in the welcome committee, was all smiles. The joy on the faces of all family members was unmistakable. They were glad their homes were whole again, and nothing was going to spoil the moment.

Of the 16 Airmen returning from deployment, four remained in Vicenza. The other 12 boarded a bus for a two-hour ride to Aviano to meet their families and the rest of the unit. During the drive, animated discussions of missions and lessons learned filled the cabin. The conversations demonstrated the tight bond often developed by those who have been in contact with an enemy and survived.

The battlefield Airmen provided combat air support coverage for the critical Afghan elections held in September 2010 and they controlled helicopters during the February 2010 avalanche resulting in the rescue of 284 Afghan citizens. They conducted multiple training sessions on the use of close air support for Army soldiers as well as crucial equipment training to coalition partners.

A unique aspect of the 8th ASOS deployment was the conduct of combat operations alongside 510th Fighter Squadron pilots, with whom they train regularly with while at home station. Aviano Air Base provides the rare opportunity for the 603rd Air Control Squadron, 510th and 555th Fighter Squadron, and 8th ASOS to train together and go to combat together. All three of these units were deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom at the same time over the past year, which allowed Aviano AB to boast the complete combat package from takeoff to check-in to "cleared hot."

The incredible number of accomplishments during this past deployment left the TACP of the 8th ASOS satisfied and proud. They were praised by every level of leadership. They have met the enemy, aimed high, fought and won alongside the Army.

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