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Military families unite downrange

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lindsey Maurice
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Deployments are never easy - spending months at a time miles away from friends and family. But for a select few military members, the stars sometimes align and their time downrange is spent with a loved one.

Some of these lucky Airmen are deployed here to "The Rock" and include mother and daughter, Tech. Sgt. Terril and Airman 1st Class Audrey Gill; husband and wife, Capts. Jared and Regina Wall; brother and sister, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Pickens and Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Nuy and Staff Sgt. Christine Marie Roman who was able to spend a day with her brother Tech. Sgt. Ramiro Orlando Garza recently, as he transited through the base destined for Iraq.

For the Gill women, both deployed from the 134th Air Refueling Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, deploying together is a dream come true.

"If I could've taken her on my other deployments, I would have," said Sergeant Gill of the 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, "because no matter how hard my day is, seeing her face when I get off work makes my whole trip here so much better."

Sergeant Gill was deployed about two months before her 20-year-old daughter arrived here for force protection duty with the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

"She was in tears when she first got off the bus and saw me," said Sergeant Gill. "It's so great to be able to experience this together."

The Gills said that even with the long hours they work, they make sure to have family time each day here.

"We worked it so we have the same day off and we eat dinner together every night," said Airman Gill, a Bean Station, Tenn., native, like her mother. "We also spend time at the Oasis watching movies or talking to people and I drag her to bingo with me every Thursday."

Airman Gill said that although her mother makes sure she knows she can enjoy her free time with just her friends; she is perfectly content just hanging out with her mom.

"We've always been pretty close," she said. "I love having her here, especially with this being my first deployment. My friends love her too. They call her 'Momma Gill.'"

Sergeant Gill said the support of their family and friends back home is really important to their morale as well.

"My husband was a little unsure at first with both of us downrange, but he likes the fact that I'm here with her," said Sergeant Gill. "It's not like I'm watching over her every move, but it's nice to know that if anything happens I'm right here. I think we both enjoy that peace of mind. It's also nice to have the support of our family and friends and the church back home."

Unlike the Gill family, Capts. Jared and Regina Wall, both of the 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, are no strangers to deploying with a loved one as this is their second deployment here together. Both C-130 pilots with the 39th Airlift Squadron out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, the couple doesn't take their good fortune for granted.

"Regina and I have had the good luck of being deployed together both times," said Capt. Jared Wall, a Madison, S.D., native. "Since I've never deployed without my spouse I can't really say what other couples go through and how it's different, but I do like that we're sharing our life experiences together."

Some of the unique challenges dual military U.S. Air Force couples face in Southwest Asia includes the command policy that prohibits cohabitation and the service-wide policy that prohibits public displays of affection while in uniform (which Airmen must always wear downrange).

"It makes a world of difference having him here," said Capt. Regina Wall, who grew up as a U.S. Army dependent. "Although we're not able to do some things most husbands and wives do like hold hands, cuddle on the couch and kiss each other goodnight, we are able to provide a lot of emotional support and continue to be best friends."

With both captains working as aircraft commanders, their schedules sometimes conflict, but the couple said they make time together a priority.

"Luckily our squadron leadership has tried to keep us on the same schedule so we are able to hang out during our off time," said Capt. Jared Wall. The couple said they try to eat meals together whenever they can as well as work out and attend church services together.

The couple said that while they appreciate the fortune of being together downrange, they, like everyone else, still miss their loved ones back home and enjoy corresponding with family and friends.

"I think family is extremely important," said Capt. Jared Wall. "Talking to my family and getting care packages helps keep me balanced while I'm deployed. I think family is a way to stay grounded and realize why we're serving our country."

His wife added that the couple has a great support network back home too that makes all the difference.

"Not only do Jared and I have each other, but we both come from large families which is great when we're deployed because there is always someone sending an e-mail," she said. "We also have an awesome church family that continues to ask us for our prayer requests, but more importantly, they continue to send their prayer request every week which really helps us stay in touch."

Brother and sister Sergeants Pickens and Nuy also understand the importance of e-mail correspondence and keeping in touch through whatever means available, having spent most of their adult lives apart in their active military lifestyles. Sergeant Nuy, 386th Expeditionary Operations Group weather flight chief deployed from the 43rd Operations Support Squadron at Pope AFB, N.C., is taking full advantage of the two-month deployment overlap she has with her older brother, an 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-17 loadmaster deployed from the 21st Airlift Squadron at Travis AFB, Calif.

"It's pretty cool that out of all the times we've both deployed to deploy at the same time to the same place for once," said Sergeant Nuy. "It's great."

The siblings, who grew up in Union Town, Ohio, even had the privilege of celebrating their birthdays together downrange for the first time in 16 years.

"Unfortunately his flying mission prevented him from going to the wing birthday dinner with me, but I got him a big chocolate birthday cake and we celebrated when he got back," said Sergeant Nuy.

With Sergeant Nuy serving in the Air Force just over 15 years now and her brother's military career spanning 8 years in the Army as a helicopter crew chief and 8 years in the Air Force as a C-17 loadmaster, time together is scarce.

"I'm gone between 200-300 days out of the year with my job, plus we usually seem to be on opposite ends of the world," said Sergeant Pickens. "This is actually the most we've seen each other in about 16 years. It's pretty nice."

Trying to schedule time together in the AOR isn't always easy with Sergeant Pickens' flying schedule, but the siblings eat together when they can and hang out from time to time.

"She works two buildings over, so I always swing by after a mission to say hi," said Sergeant Pickens. "I appreciate any time I have with her."

Another set of military siblings who cherish any time they have together is Sergeant Roman, a logistics planner with the 386th Logistics Readiness Squadron, and her brother Sergeant Garza, a vehicle operator with the 506th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The siblings had a seven-hour visit here recently as Sergeant Roman worked to get her brother on a space available flight to his final destination downrange after his original flight was delayed.

"Being deployed here, I knew he would pass through on his way to his deployed location, so I made plans to see him," said Sergeant Roman, deployed from the Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB, La.

But when Sergeant Garza's original flight was delayed, Sergeant Roman had lost hope, thinking the flight he did end up on was going to transit through a different location.

"I received a phone call and it was him asking me to 'get him out of here'," she joked. "So I got him on a Space A flight and we had the best seven hours of being together before he left. I think God had a plan for us to meet up and we did. We haven't seen each other in years and I was full of happiness. I'll never forget it."

The siblings, both San Antonio, Texas, natives, passed their time together visiting different facilities on base and just enjoying one another's company.

"We just sat and talked and enjoyed what time we had together," said Sergeant Garza deployed from the 433rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Lackland AFB, Texas. "Having that family support helps you feel closer to home when you're thousands of miles away. We have a good relationship and I'm thankful. She's the best."

Sergeant Roman said she has always admired her older brother, even as a child.

"I've looked up to my brother since I was growing up and always wanted to be like him," she said. "I admire the sacrifices he's made and the difference he's made in my life and others. He's why I joined the Air Force. I wanted to make a difference and be a part of something. I was always trying to catch up to him."

While the siblings are now separated downrange, with Sergeant Garza now at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, the two still try to correspond regularly through e-mails and phone calls.

"Family is very important," said Sergeant Roman. "I will never take that for granted."