128th Air Refueling Wing, Milwaukee, Wisc. --
Like the song lyrics imply, “Life goes on without you,” but David Lee Roth doesn’t have it right for the Wisconsin National Guard when he sings “I ain’t got nobody.”
A recent welcome home celebration held at the 128th Air Refueling Wing on Sunday, Oct. 14 highlighted the role the National Guard’s support network plays while service members are deployed.
“Over the past year the 128th Air Refueling Wing has had more than 260 service members deployed in support of missions across the globe. They ranged in time from a few weeks and months to over half a year.” said Col. James Locke, 128th Air Refueling Wing commander.
“That number of Airmen represents roughly one third of the installation’s assigned personnel being deployed in support of the National Guard’s federal mission to fight America’s wars.” Locke said.
Wisconsin State Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Safer looked at the formation of recently redeployed Airman and said, “You, the warrior Airmen of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, adapted, overcame and prevailed in the face of any challenge that we put upon you. But that’s just what you do, it’s what you always do because you are the best of the best. It’s very special and you should be very proud.”
Then Safer looked into the seated audience and said, “The families should be very proud as well for your role in holding down the fort and supporting our Airmen so that they could focus on their job. Without your support it would be very difficult to accomplish the mission. That’s just a fact.”
That fact resonates with two members of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Master Sgt. Brandon Zahn and his spouse, Master Sgt. Kristin Zahn, who braved a solo pregnancy and gave birth to their daughter a mere five hours prior to Zahn’s return from a 7-month deployment with U.S. Africa Command.
“Deployments and pregnancies are difficult on their own, and extra difficult when done together. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without everyone’s support.” said Kristin.
Although Kristin’s due date was a week after Zahn’s return, the baby had her own timeline and was born the day Zahn arrived home. “We joke that our daughter didn’t want to wait through delivery to meet her Dad,” said Kristin.
When asked what advice they would share for a pregnancy while one parent is deployed Kristin said, “It’s important to use the help from people around you and not feel guilty about it. Be as honest and understanding as possible for each other’s situation.”
Zahn added, “The deployed member is separated from everything they are familiar with, and the spouse has to keep home life going. It’s not going to be easy for either of you.”
Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin Rebecca Kleefisch was also in attendance at the welcome home celebration. She thanked the Airmen for their contribution and said, “I know that there were trying times as you served far away from loved ones; seeking only to protect peace so that families like mine can sleep well at night. Your sacrifice has been nothing short of extraordinary.”
Trying times is exactly what firefighter Master Sgt. Brandon Gumm had during his deployment with U.S. Central Command.
“I lost my father in Dallas, Texas during my deployment. He suffered from a heart condition which was essentially terminal for a year timeframe before death.” Gumm said.
Once Gumm’s American Red Cross notification was received, his deployed first sergeant got to work coordinating emergency leave.
“The first sergeant there was phenomenal in getting the travel paperwork in order. The base and Red Cross could only pay for a flight to my home of record. I required transport to the Dallas area and then to home to Milwaukee for family support.” Gumm said.
In an act of goodwill the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Fire Department and members of the 128th Fire Department pooled their money together and paid for a flight for Gumm from Milwaukee to Dallas. They wanted to help their fellow firefighter get to where he was needed so that he would not have to stress and could focus on taking care of his family.
Gumm was extremely appreciative of his firefighting community. His recommendation for deploying service members is to inform a family member of the military emergency communication process provided by the American Red Cross and to make sure that they have your deployed unit’s information.
The reality is that life, and even death, will go on during a deployment. There is no compensation that can make up for missing these moments. What helps is that service members have the support networks of families, friends, employers, communities, veteran support organizations and wingmen to lean on in times of need; deployed or at home station.