354th Bulldogs overcome hurdles to make it to Bagram

Col. Bruce McClintock, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander, performs a pre-flight inspection of his A-10 Warthog prior to his flight at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 23. Col. McClintock is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Col. Bruce McClintock, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander, performs a pre-flight inspection of his A-10 Warthog prior to his flight at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 23. Col. McClintock is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Staff Sgt. Larry Brand, 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, preps the cockpit of an A-10 Warthog prior to flight at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 23. Sergeant Brand is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Staff Sgt. Larry Brand, 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, preps the cockpit of an A-10 Warthog prior to flight at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 23. Sergeant Brand is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Staff Sgt. James Stage, 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit propulsion technician, prepares to swap out the engine of an A-10 Warthog at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 24. Sergeant Stage is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

Staff Sgt. James Stage, 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit propulsion technician, prepares to swap out the engine of an A-10 Warthog at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan May 24. Sergeant Stage is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (photo by Staff Sgt. Craig Seals)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- A deployment to any forward location presents its own share of unique and sometimes daunting challenges, but for the men and women of the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., the deployment was just half the battle.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is the headquarters of 12th Air Force and is the home of the 354th Fighter Squadron and 354th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. It's also a very busy base.

"Back in February, we were smack in the middle of an Operational Readiness Inspection when we found out our deployment date had been moved up," said Chief Master Sgt. Ezell Buxton, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Group chief enlisted manager.

"The unit we have deployed here was the main hub of the ORI. After the inspection, we had a two-day airshow followed by two no-fly days," the chief said. "After that, we had two weeks to prep the jets for this deployment."

With a deadline like that fast approaching, the members of the 354th pulled through together.

"We were really time-compressed. We took a three month deployment spin-up and completed it in one month while completing our ORI," said Capt. Dennis "Haggis" Hargis, 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot. "Our security forces guys helped out, as well as our training flight, and I know our Unit Deployment Managers went into overdrive"

In addition to their home station's team effort assisting with the deployment readiness, the Airmen of the 354th received another helping hand when their wing leadership secured them an additional two weeks prior to deploying.

"We wouldn't have been able to do it without those two extra weeks," said Captain Hargis. "This really took a total team effort."

On top of getting the aircraft prepared to deploy, the Airmen also had to prepare themselves. They were completing ancillary training, mobility readiness and weapons qualification, while maintaining and preparing the aircraft.

"At first I felt rushed, but just before we left I started feeling ready," said Airman 1st Class Anthony LaPorta, 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft avionics systems technician.

"It was pretty painful at first," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Guzman, 354th EAMU dedicated crew chief. "I had about two weeks to get all my training done. For me, though, it was a relief to get here. A lot of people helped me out to get me where I am."

Their outstanding efforts paid off, however, when they arrived at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

"I flew here with the jets and by the time I got here, everything was set up," said Airman LaPorta. "We were already accomplishing familiarization flights. It was all definitely worth it."

"We had the jets ready for combat within 24 hours of our arrival and flew our first combat sorties within 36 hours; 12 hours before our tasking," said Capt. Kevin Koren, 354th EAMU officer in charge. "The Airmen did an outstanding job."

"I got here before the jets did, but when the jets arrived we had them fully mission capable within 24 hours," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Langbehn, 354th EAMU armament systems technician. "It's been great since we got here. We've been busy and that makes the time go by faster."

Overcoming challenges requires hard work, determination and a strong sense of teamwork. The men and women of the 354th have shown that they have this in spades and already have a strong sense of accomplishment at the beginning of their tour.

"I find it rewarding when I fly, to see all the Afghan villages that will live free by what we're doing here," said Captain Hargis. "Protecting others - that justifies missing my family."