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Families Say Goodbye as Alaskan Units Deploy to Middle East

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, Aug. 30, 2005 – About 100 servicemembers from the Air Force and the Alaska Army National Guard deployed from here, headed for the Middle East, early this morning.

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Air Force Airman 1st Class Brandon Raanes, his wife, Jessie, and daughter, Ashley, 1, share a few moments before Raanes leaves for Kuwait Aug. 30. Raanes is part of the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. His son, Dillan, 3, was also there to see Dad off. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

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The servicemembers did not express much apprehension about the mission ahead of them, but their family members showed some uneasiness.

Erin Ellingwood, wife of Air Force Staff Sgt. David Ellingwood, said she knew what she was getting herself into when she married into the military. But still, she said, it's not easy watching her husband deploy.

"I married him and I knew he was in the Air Force," Erin said. "(Deploying) is part of what we do. It's part of being a family that serves the country."

She said she keeps her fears in check by reminding herself that "the vast majority of people come home."

"We have people living all around us that have gone and come home, and it's OK," she said.

Staff Sgt. Ellingwood is a diesel mechanic with the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, and this is his first deployment into a combat zone. He expects this deployment to Balad, Iraq, to last about four months, and it should go quickly if his daughter, Christen, 6, has her way. She plans on sending him lots of letters and pictures.

Some spouses and children had more reservations about seeing their loved ones heading off to a combat zone, as was the case for Rebecca Rela and her children.

Rela's husband, Air Force Airman 1st Class John Rela with the 3rd Civil Engineering Squadron, said he doesn't know how long he will be deployed to Kuwait. That worries Rebecca a little because she'll be home with 8-month-old Toby, who just sat up on his own for the first time Aug. 29.

Airman 1st Class Rela said it's difficult to leave knowing he'll miss his youngest son's first words and first steps. "It's pretty hard," he said. "But I've got to do it."

Elder son Daniel, 6, said he is sad his dad is going away for a while but plans on e-mailing him. The Relas have also made a videotape of John for the children to watch, and they plan to keep journals of their time apart.

Army 1st Lt. Jaime Campbell is anxious to deploy. This deployment will give Campbell, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot with the Army National Guard's 207th Aviation Regiment, a chance for her to catch up with her husband in Kuwait before they press on to their final -- and different -- destinations.

Campbell's husband left two weeks ago, and she said they expect to be deployed for a year to 18 months each. The couple has been married for three years but has only lived together 10 months of that time because of military duties, Campbell said.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Micah Parks, with the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, is also headed to Kuwait. He said he's looking forward to the deployment. "I think it's a great opportunity to take part in this mission, fighting the war on terrorism," he said.

Parks previously deployed as part of Operation Southern Watch in 2001 and to Kuwait in 2002 as part of the build up to the war.

As the time for family members to leave drew near, some of the calm exteriors began to crack. Tears appeared, and the servicemembers were sent off with hugs and kisses to get them through.

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Elmendorf Air Force Base

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Staff Sgt. David Ellingwood, of the 3rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, spends some time with his daughter, Christen, 6; son, Jack, 4; and wife, Erin, Aug. 30 at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, before deploying to Iraq for four months. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Brad Quigley and his wife, Tracy, say a tearful goodbye at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Aug. 30, as he prepares to leave for Kuwait. Quigley is part of the 207th Aviation Regiment. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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