Mention the word

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Samual P. O'Donnell
  • 319th Maintenance Group
Mention the word "deployment" to any military member or their family and there is a knowing look that crosses their faces. It is a look of resolution mixed with sadness and empathy. It's the "I've been there, done that" look. Deployments are difficult. They strain the military members and their families. There is a grueling process of leaving and then returning to one's home and family.

Though I never enjoyed leaving my home and family to deploy, I always realized the necessity of going. When a military member is deployed it is typically for four months or often longer. This means an extended time away from family and friends. You spend your time mentally preparing for the time you will be away. You reverse this process when you return from deployment.

I am not a counselor or a chaplain. I am an aircraft maintainer. I am trained to inspect aircraft and support equipment so it can be ready to meet the mission. I often find there is a specific reason beyond the primary duties I perform while I am in the combat area. I have been surprised at the depth of the conversations I've had with people while I've been deployed. I too have learned great lessons while deployed. On one deployment it was to learn to be thankful for the things I would often overlook. Let me illustrate this with a story.

I was selected to go out on a maintenance recovery tasking (MRT). At first I thought nothing of it. I cannot describe the surreal feeling I felt when I was handed my combat gear, rifle, and live ammunition. I knew that this was not training; this is what I had been trained for. We loaded up into a C-130 aircraft and flew forward to the combat area where the disabled aircraft was located. As we got closer to the airfield, we were instructed to make sure our weapons were ready and or battle gear was good to go. We landed at the air strip and another member of the Air Force boarded our aircraft. He told us we were welcome to take our weapons and battle gear with us, but that would really not be necessary. There were thousands of Marines and Army personnel that were already trained, armed, and present. The enemy would have to go through these dedicated individuals if they were to get to us. We were safe in the care of our brothers and sisters in arms. I felt a tremendous relief knowing they were there. Incidentally, we fixed the aircraft and were treated to a meal in the dining facility at the forward location. It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

My time in the desert was finally over and I was on my way home. It is a long flight and our group stopped overnight in England. I got to my hotel room at about 11:00 PM and went to bed. I awoke around 7:00 AM. I felt rested and was wide awake. I decided to get some breakfast so I got dressed and went looking for a place to eat. I walked by a place that piqued my curiosity. I went in and ran into a friend. I had talked at length with her and her fiancé about married life, on a previous deployment. The two of them had now married and were stationed at the base I was visiting. I knew she and her new husband were the reason I came through the base at that time. I was able to encourage both of them and help them strengthen their marriage. The connection with these two great people made the tough times of the deployment worth it.

I deployed again in October of 2008 and returned in February of 2009. It was the most amazing deployment I have been on. When I left, I decided I would have no preconceived ideas about where I was going. I would force myself to find the good in the situations I found myself in. The difference was phenomenal. I discovered my own attitude toward situations really did make a big difference. The deployment itself went very well, in spite of having a major inspection at the deployed location. I found myself having exceptional conversations with other deployed members and we were both helped by the time spent together. I can point to seven distinct conversations that people reported to me as having a distinct impact on them. I feel God greatly used me in those times because my own attitude was right. I also feel God used my skills to help my colleagues because I maintained a good level of spiritual fitness.

Few of us look forward to a deployment or leaving home, friends and family. However, mobilizing military members is a necessary part of our nation's defense. I believe the deployment can serve a secondary purpose and sometimes that is more far reaching than the primary reason. I feel that God has always used my deployment experience to show me more of his nature and character. The hard times enabled me to grow in my faith and dependence on the God that loved me first and best. It is during those times away from all the trappings of affluent, western, living that God seems to speak with the most clarity. There are things of my own character that are also revealed and refined. It is through those tough times I go through that make me a better Airmen and a better disciple of the God I serve. It is true, we need each other. I was helped as much by those I talked with as they were helped by me. When we walk the journey of faith together it is amazing the treasures we discover as we learn to take the journey together.