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"The hardest part about saying hello..."

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Raquel Baldwin
  • 447th Expeditionary Communications Squadron
With my eyes closed and head tilted back, I held on to the sides of my seat on a C-130 along with the others who are deploying with me, wondering if they are thinking the same thing I am thinking, "I'm on the way to Sather Air Base, Baghdad, to meet new faces in a new environment with new hearts to share stories about loved ones and friends back home."

I was afraid of entering my new home, afraid of not being able to return to my old home, afraid of ruining the mission, afraid of something going wrong and afraid I may accidentally leave a wingman behind. But, as a member of the United State Air Force, I knew I had to be strong for others.

As a 24 year-old on her first deployment, I wasn't as experienced as most of the military members sitting next to me, who have been on many previous deployments and understand things better than I do.

The first night was the hardest night, tossing and turning in bed until I rocked myself to sleep, but sleep wasn't coming easy. I thought about my nieces back home and the birthdays I will miss. I thought about my mother who is home alone because my dad is serving in Afghanistan. I thought of my older sister who is in school for nursing but always makes time to tell me she loves me over Facebook. Lastly, I thought about my little sister who just enlisted into the Air Force and who emails me every day to tell me she needs me and loves me.

Everything was happening so fast, but not fast enough. The next morning, I walked into the doors of the 447th Expeditionary Communications Squadron and was welcomed by the commander, superintendent and my supervisor. These new faces became familiar faces really fast. I have never felt so comfortable so quickly in my own work place in a very long time.
They assured me that everything would be fine - that the first deployments are the hardest. They introduced me to the members of our squadron and made it easy for me to come to work with a smile on my face. I was a little nervous about working directly in the command section and nervous about not living up to their standards as a Senior Airman.

But I didn't let that concern stop me and I worked and performed my duties as if I knew what everyone would ask for next - after a while, I did.

I learned when the commander came to work, he would make himself some coffee and use two bags of oatmeal to complete his breakfast (his favorite flavor being maple brown sugar) while he looked over his schedule of appointments for the day and prepared for all of the meetings he had to attend.

I learned that the superintendent would arrive in the mornings full of enthusiasm and look over my work. He would correct me when I was wrong and praise me when I was right; he would make sure I became the best Airman I could possibly be.

I learned my supervisor would always have my back if I had any problems and that I can always talk to him about work or personal problems if things got too hard. I also learned to keep a smile on my face so that my smile would rub off on other members of the squadron - so they would know that each day will be a great day.

I took what I learned while here at Sather AB and I used it when it was most needed. As an example, one day I was walking to the Dining Facility and I saw one of our senior mentors who is always at our Honor Guard practices; but he didn't have that smile on his face that he normally carried. He look tired and worn out. I spoke to him and he spoke back. As I was walking away I stopped and turned around and said, "Sir, are you okay?" He replied "Thank you, thank you. I have been here for a while and no one has ever asked me that question. Thank you, I really appreciate it".

It felt good to know that he was okay and he felt better because I asked a simple question which meant a lot to him. Right then I knew that I would NEVER leave a wingman behind.
As time passed, it got closer for the new rotation to arrive and the old rotation to return home. I felt as though I was missing something, but I couldn't put a finger on it. After a while I realized that I was losing my new family, people who taught me to smile every day, people who held my head up so that I could hold other heads up with mine.
I'm already saying goodbye after I just said hello. It's hard saying goodbye to people with whom you once shared memorable events; but the good part about it is getting to meeting new people who are coming to take the positions of the old rotation.

Now I am standing on the other side. As the new rotation begins to arrive they must be thinking what I was once thinking, "I'm on the way to Baghdad, to meet new faces, in a new environment with new hearts to share stories about loved ones and friends back home". I am the new face welcoming them into a new environment.
In the end, the hardest part about saying hello is knowing you will have to say goodbye.