MILWAUKEE, WI - While most of us prepare for the holidays by purchasing last minute gifts and buying all the ingredients for a big holiday meal, more than 100 airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) processed through a deployment readiness line in preparation for an upcoming deployment here at General Mitchell Field, Milwaukee, Dec. 21, 2022.
Airmen from the 128th ARW will be assigned to the 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron as part of the U.S. Pacific Command at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
The 128th ARW will send Airmen from several squadrons with a variety of jobs and skill sets, but the primary mission will be to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft in support of the continuous bomber presence and theater security plan in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of responsibility.
Although this may be what they signed up for, it doesn’t make leaving family behind during one of the most beloved holidays any easier. Col Adria Zuccaro, 128th ARW Commander, understands the dedication her Airmen have and the sacrifices they make for their country.
“It takes tremendous dedication to be deployed or work on station during the holidays,” said Zuccaro. “Being away from home is always difficult for our Airmen’s families but it is particularly hard during the holidays, and our Airmen deserve all the praise and support our community has to offer.”
Missing holidays is a necessary hardship of being in the military, and not uncommon, but sometimes the families of the deployed Airmen are overlooked. Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Branz, 128th ARW first sergeant, recognizes this and praises the spouses left behind to manage their family and home on their own.
“For the deployed members it is business as usual, we have each other and we go out and do our job,” said Branz. “The family members back home have the difficult task of going about their business one member short. Spouses give up ‘me time’ to pull double duty, kids are asked to step up and mature a little more in this absence.”
Thankfully over the years the 128 ARW and the U.S. military in general has built up a solid support system for deployed service personnel and their families. Whether its base personnel from the health and wellness team, base non-profit organizations like the 128th Airmen and Family Foundation, or the local United Service Organization (USO), our Airmen and their families have access to almost anything they would need if an emergency were to arise.
“This year the health and wellness team worked with outside volunteers to provide food for two deployed families in need,” said Branz. “They’ll also be delivering gifts to the children of parents that will be deployed this Christmas.”
While it is rough heading out the door just before Christmas, these 128th ARW Airmen leaving for Guam aren’t the only Wing members that will be missing the holidays this year. The 128th ARW has nearly 100 Airmen spread out across the globe at various deployed locations. Most of them nearing the end of their deployment will still miss out on the joy of spending the holiday season with their loved ones, especially Senior Master Sgt. Nicole Synowicz, the human resources superintendent of the 128th ARW force support squadron.
“I miss everything about this time of year,” said Synowicz. “Decorating too early, shopping with my family, Christmas music in the office, making my kids love Christmas as much as me, sitting by the fire with my husband, work Christmas parties, Christmas morning donuts! I miss it all.”
Nevertheless, when you talk to these Airmen about the disappointment of missing the holidays, you never get a sense of regret. The mission is the priority, and it is oftentimes an immensely rewarding experience.
“I truly appreciate every service man and woman for what they do year-to-year, especially for those who miss holiday after holiday,” said Synowicz. “It’s been so hard but also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”