By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD He has run through the drill many times. Still, as Air Force Staff Sgt. Harry Walpole waited Wednesday to leave on his eighth deployment in nine years, he wondered if he had forgotten to pack something.
Youd think Id have this down, Walpole said as he waited for the bus to the airfield. I know I forgot something. I keep wondering what it is.
Walpole and about 15 others from the 712th Air Support Operations Squadron left for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan before the crack of dawn, taking with them about 20 percent of the squadrons strength.
The squad-ron normally supports III Corps by coordinating airpower with ground operations. While in Afghani-stan, the squadron will support the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.
Once back from Afghanistan, the squadron wont remain at Fort Hood for long. Next stop: Iraq.
The airmen are scheduled to deploy in shifts to both countries.
While a few will stay in Afghanistan for the entire six months, most will deploy for three or four months before switching with another airman, said Capt. Jason Wood. The Iraq deployment also is expected to be divided into six-month shifts, though airmen likely will be allowed to volunteer to stay the entire year.
Walpole volunteered for the Afghanistan mission. The tour will be his third trip to the Middle Eastern country. He also has been to Iraq twice, Kosovo twice and Bosnia once.
Last year was my first year actually not going anywhere, Walpole said.
Walpole hopes hell have enough free time to finish his bachelors degree in English while in Afghanistan. The education center at Bagram Air Base should help, he said.
Walpole has watched the air base become more and more livable during his trips there. His first deployment to the base was in the summer of 2002, about eight months after the first American air strikes on Afghanistan. He camped out in a tent.
When he returned for his second time several months later, he moved up to an actual building and enjoyed American fast-food restaurants and recreation facilities.
They had Burger King, he mused.
Its not that bad of a deployment anymore, Walpole said. Theyve got all the comforts of home. I cant do just anything I want like drive off base to a restaurant, but the facilities have really improved.
Moving closer to his wife will make this deployment a little easier for Wood. His wife, a signal officer, deployed to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division.
The couple will be one time zone apart and a country between them, rather than the nine hours and an ocean between Fort Hood and Baghdad, Iraq. They might get to see each other during the deployment.
Wood returned from Iraq a year ago Wednesday. He said he is happy to be back at work doing what hes been trained to do, and he knows what to expect.
Lety Ford also has the deployment routine down. Her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Mike Ford, has been in the Air Force for 23 years, though he left for his first trip to Afghanistan on Wednesday.
The Fords have two daughters who are old enough to understand their dad is leaving for a long time and is going somewhere dangerous. Thats why the girls, ages 15 and 9, did not come to their dads farewell at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.
They would cry, and that would make their dad cry, Mike Ford said.
Then their mom would cry, Lety Ford added.
Lt. Col. Rod Dorsey, the squadron commander, said the airmen and their families can find comfort in the extensive training the airmen received.
The squadron participated in the 10th Mountains mission rehearsal exercise at Fort Drum and completed obstacle courses and convoy training at Fort Hood. The airmen also learned about cultural issues, working with the media, rules of engagement for firefights and how to handle roadside bomb explosions, Dorsey said.
While the airmen were allowed to deploy in civilian clothes, they have been issued Army combat uniforms, which they will wear in Afghanistan, Dorsey said.
The Air Force is developing its own urban combat uniform with a digitized camouflage pattern similar to the new Army uniforms that were issued to Fort Hood soldiers beginning last summer.
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com