Augmentees "backbone" of Operation Homecoming

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Operation Homecoming, when deployed Airmen return to Hurlburt Field, produces moments that could make even the steeliest NCO tear up.

Though these events are poignant, there is another element that, while not as moving as the gatherings inside the hangar, is just as demonstrative of the support Airmen have for their returning teammates.

Outside the throng of families and well-wishers that make up the greeting cordon in the hangar, Airmen wear bright-yellow reflective vests and work diligently to unload all of the baggage contained within the plane's cargo hold.

The augmentees are volunteer Airmen who hail from units and groups within the 1st Special Operations Wing. They assist the 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron with the processing line at the Deployment Control Center and the loading and unloading of baggage when Airmen depart from and return to Hurlburt Field.

"Though the face of Operation Homecoming is typically a child with a flag or a tearful spouse, the augmentees who support us month after month are the backbone of each event," said Capt. Joseph Bublick, 1st SOLRS and installation deployment officer. "Without these volunteers, the timeline for getting loved ones back to their families would be completely unacceptable."

Just like the Airmen who deploy or return, the volunteers represent a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences across the Air Force and America.

As the augmentees load baggage from a truck to an aircraft or vice versa, bag upon bag may pass between different sets of hands belonging to both males and females; enlisted and commissioned Airmen. Some of their Air Force careers neared 20 years while some barely totaled a few months.

In doing so, they all work together toward the same goal: to make sure the plane carrying their fellow Airmen could leave with everything they need to succeed or safely speed up their return time with their families.

"If it's something I can do to make their deployment easier, it's worth it," said Master Sgt. Mark VanLoh, 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron superintendent and baggage augmentee at the DCC. "I help wherever I can, and it's good exercise, too."

Augmentees from within the 1st Special Operations Group endured sweltering heat under the summer sun during an Operation Homecoming at Hurlburt Field Sept. 4.

But despite the heat and having to work in the middle of a holiday weekend, volunteers like Airman 1st Class Dandrell Thomas, 319th Special Operations Squadron aviation resource management, said they were motivated by the chance to help Airmen return home.

"I felt that my work as an augmentee was a lot less compared to what our returning Airmen had been through," Airman Thomas said. "By lending a helping hand, I felt as if I was showing my thanks to them for all they do to protect our country."

So whether the Airmen in their regular jobs make sure people correctly fill out their medical or financial forms, preparing a meal at a dining facility, working operations in the darkness of night or maintaining aircraft to keep them flying, the volunteers who serve as augmentees are a tangible reminder of how 1st SOW Airmen support each other as part of "one team, one fight."

"The augmentees should take pride knowing that when it's their turn and the same professional and efficient level of service will be provided to them by such volunteers," Captain Bublick said.