September 11th, 2006 03:59 EST
Puerto Rico ANG in war zone for first time by Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- The Puerto Rico Air National Guard deployed here Sept. 8 -- the first time in a war zone in its 55-year history.
A few of the members have been deployed to other regions of the world, such as to Bosnia, but they had never deployed as a unit to a war zone until now.
"This is history for us," said Chief Master Sgt. Wilford Palmer, 156th Airlift Wing aircraft maintenance production supervisor. "This is an adventure because none of us has ever been here before."
When the unit asked for volunteers for this war-time deployment, the chief said, they received so many they had to restrict the deployment length to one month for most of them to give everyone a chance to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We still have people at home who want to be here," Chief Palmer said. "They want to be part of the freedom fighters, to be part of liberating Afghanistan and Iraq to spread democracy."
Although their members will be rotating out every 30 days, the unit is committed to its 120-day deployment.
"Our goal is to make this a better country and spread democracy, and that's inspirational to me," said Master Sgt. Robin Santana, a C-130 Hercules avionics guidance control technician. "I volunteered to serve my country and do my part."
Eight years ago, the unit flew F-16 Fighting Falcons. Now they fly the Herc.
"The switch was tough," the chief said. "Our unit had always been a fighter-oriented unit. Switching to the 'heavy' community was a big change. But we adapted and learned that the C-130 mission is an excellent mission. We're relevant and ready to go."
The 68 members who deployed received a hero's send off nine days ago when they left after getting interviewed by three newspapers and one television news crew. Even a senator was on hand to bid them farewell.
The trip from Puerto Rico took seven days because of mechanical problems in Greece.
"We have always wanted to get involved for a long time and now we're getting the chance," the chief said.