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13th AMU excited, nervous and ready to deploy

070413-MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Staff Sgt. Christopher Smith, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, stands by while a 13th Fighter Squadron pilot does his pre-flight check on his F-16 Wild Weasel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Robert Barnett)

070413-MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Staff Sgt. Christopher Smith, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, stands by while a 13th Fighter Squadron pilot does his pre-flight check on his F-16 Wild Weasel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Robert Barnett)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- For those deploying for the first time, it's exciting and nerve-wracking, but they are ready to put their everyday training into play to support the Global War on Terrorism, and relieve their counterparts in Iraq. 

"I didn't think I would be going so soon, but I'm really excited," said Airman 1st Class Matthew Popp, 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft armament technician, who arrived at Misawa in October. As an aircraft armament technician, the one-year veteran loads munitions and ammunition on the F-16 Fighting Falcon and maintains the equipment that launches the weapons. 

The Minnesota native said although he's nervous, the training he has received leading up to his deployment this month has been a big help. 

"I've been doing more PT (physical training)," said Airman Popp. "We've gone through ESCT (Expeditionary Skills Combat Training). It gives us a good basis to stump stuff that might happen while we're there in the area of responsibility." 

The 13th AMU will be supporting the 13th Fighter Squadron when they swap out with 14th Fighter Squadron at Balad Air Base, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq. Before deploying, Airmen must now receive combat skills training. Pacific Air Forces contracted a mobile training team of six instructors to training PACAF personnel postured against upcoming Air Expeditionary Force cycles. 

"They (instructors) taught some Army training - high and low crawl, basic convoy training, and UXO (unexploded ordnance) sweeps," said Airman Popp. "It helped out quite a bit."
Participating in Exercise Red Flag, the Operational Readiness Exercise in February, the Operational Readiness Inspection in March and supporting a very aggressive flying schedule for the 13th FS pilots AEF training, have all contributed to the unit's preparedness to deploy, said 1st Lt. Tony Christensen, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who is deploying for the first time as well. 

"We are definitely ready to hit the road and start doing our nation's business," she said. "I'm very excited about deploying. This is what we train to do everyday and it is gratifying that we will get to see all that training finally put to the test." 

Exercises at Misawa every other month have also prepared the team mentally and physically, said Airman 1st Class Jonathan Torres, 13th AMU aircraft armament technician, also a first-time deployer. "Not only do we have to do our job, but we must wear items like the gas mask, helmet, canteen, flak vest with Kevlar and Teflon; that's about 10 pounds," said Airman Torres. "I think that alone has prepared us to go downrange." 

Other preparation exercises included temporary duties to Alaska and Nevada, which was "a great opportunity for the pilots, but our maintainers were also able to hone their skills during munitions loading as well as maintaining the targeting pods," said Capt. Kenneth Fravor, 13th AMU officer in charge. Targeting pods allow the pilots to see detailed images of the ground, day or night, and to employ laser guided bombs and global positioning system-guided weapons. 

"My unit is ready to make sure our pilots have safe, properly configured and reliable F-16s to drop bombs on their intended targets," said the captain, who will deploy for the fifth time. 

Talking with the 14th AMU at least weekly, getting feedback on what to bring and what to expect has also aided the squadron, said Lieutenant Christensen. "The team over there has provided lots of information and tips," she said. "We have made some adjustments for our plan based on the 14th AMU's inputs - mostly on what we should bring with us."
The unit has been working longer hours since the beginning of the year. 

"We've taken great steps to ensure our people and their families are prepared for this deployment," said the lieutenant. 

From a well-maintained RAV (Readiness Assistant Advisor) program, regular gatherings and town hall meetings to field concerns and answering questions for the spouses to unit deployment and training managers ensuring the Airmen are properly trained to being equipped, preparation has been ongoing, said Lieutenant Christensen. 

"We are definitely ready," she said. "This is what our country has called on us to do. I would rather go with no other unit than the Panthers!"