Spending the Holidays at Home this Year: 944th Airman return to Phoenix

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It is fairly common to talk about how time flies, whether it is the happy times, the sad times, or just plain time in general. When you think of what occurs over the course of six months, be it birthdays, holidays, baseball games, weddings, or births to name a few, time seems to drag.

More than 250 local Reserve Citizen Airman, were celebrated recently at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The 944th Fighter Wing welcomed them home after being deployed for six months overseas. These Airmen, made up the largest forward deployed group the 944th has sent overseas in more than five years.

Whether time passed quickly or slowly, the homecoming made up for lost time with live music, barbecue, and hundreds of members of the 944th, to include friends and family.

During the six months these Airman were deployed, there were several surface level occasions we can all relate to; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and not to mention, the World Series, the Super Bowl, March Madness, and the NBA Finals — if you’re into sports.

“We made the most of it,” said Senior Airman Samuel Olivas, 944th Force Support Squadron services technician.

Olivas was deployed as part of the 380th Force Support Squadron. Working in services, his primary responsibilities really focused on troop morale, as he handles lodging, food services, the fitness center, and facilitating entertainment. This was his second deployment to the Middle East.

It’s a selfless sounding role, and Olivas, of Phoenix, said he was proud to fill it.

“We did whatever we could to make it feel just a little like home,” said Olivas. “It was fulfilling to feel the importance of what we do and how we were appreciated.”

He talked about how being in a deployed environment really provides perspective and gratitude.

Meanwhile, back home in Phoenix, Olivas’ wife gave birth to their newborn daughter. Gratefully, Olivas was able to participate in the birth via FaceTime with support from his fellow Airman.

“That was the hardest part,” he said.

He spoke about being able to hold his baby girl for the first time.

“She was a little bit hesitant,” Olivas said. “She didn’t quite know who I was.”

Not far removed from the experiences of Olivas, another Airman, Staff Sgt. Jack Turner, missed the birthdays of each of his three children.

“The time zone was the biggest challenge,” said Turner, historian for the 944th. Turner was deployed as the historian for the 370th Air Expeditionary Unit.

“Me and the family did most of our talking on Sundays.”

Turner’s children are seven, five, and one, and he joked, saying they were not really interested in having long conversations with dad anyway.

“My one-year-old had not seen me since he was six months old aside from pictures and FaceTime,” said Turner. “I think he was weirded out when he actually saw me in 3-D.”

From a professional perspective, Turner said he really appreciated the opportunity of his first deployment.

Turner noted that one of the more historically relevant operations the 370th AEU participated in during the deployment was Operation Jagged Knife.

According to a press release from NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, Operation Jagged Knife was a proactive U.S.-led operation targeting Taliban revenue streams where poppy is processed into illegal opiate drugs such as heroin.

“The general feeling I got while we were there was that the active duty personnel really appreciated our support,” said Turner. “It was felt that we brought the necessary experience and professionalism.”

As for the upcoming holiday season, Olivas, Turner, and the other returning members of the 944th will be home, knowing time is precious, not soon forgetting where they spent the holidays last year.

“I am proud to wear the uniform,” said Olivas. “It has given me direction and helped me throughout my life.”