AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
Forward deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, 16 Airmen from the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing are ensuring mission readiness at a key warfighting location.
The Airmen represent career specialties from across the Air Force spectrum and are providing critical infrastructure to keep the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at the base flying aircraft and supporting the Air Force mission in the Middle East region.
“It’s a dirty job, and it never stops flowing,” said Tech. Sgt. Darick Kvam, who serves as a plumber with the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at ADAB. He and Staff Sgt. Wyatt Simsonson, a fellow Minnesota plumber, are tasked with keeping water and sewage operations at ADAB flowing.
The CE plumbing job is one that is critical to keeping the base operating, but seldom gets much spotlight.
Other Minnesota Airmen are working in supply, emergency management, heating and cooling, medical and in several administrative positions. The Airmen traditionally serve as the 148th home base in Duluth.
SSgt Makayla Nordean serves as the commander’s administrative assistant in the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Back in the Minnesota Guard, she serves a similar role in her traditional one weekend per month duties. While the Duluth unit flies F-16 Fighting Falcons, an air superiority fighter aircraft, and the 908th flies KC-10 Extenders, and air-to-air-refueling aircraft, Nordean’s administrative duties are about the same at the two bases. What she really misses, however, is something else from home.
“I’m a preschool teacher in my civilian job, so I am used to get lots of hugs from my 4-year-old students every day,” she said. “I really miss seeing kids every day.”
The Minnesota Airmen are all scheduled to serve about six months away from home and agreed that it is a morale booster to have several people from their home unit at ADAB with them. For the majority of the group, this is there first major deployment and having a few friendly faces around is helpful.
As is typically in an Air National Guard unit, the Airmen said they mostly all knew each other before deployment and get a lift from seeing each other around the base in ADAB.
The team also represents a wide range of ages.
“I think youngest is 21 and the oldest… well, let’s just say the oldest is probably old enough to be the mother of the 21-year-old,” said Tech. Sgt. Shelly Zupetz, who is serving as the administrative assistant to the 380th Wing’s command chief master sergeant.
The 380th Wing's is equipped with E-3 Sentries (AWACS), RQ-4 Global Hawks and KC-10 Extenders. They are a unique combination of aircraft which acts as the "eyes and ears," serve as guardians of the sky and provide greater range and endurance for coalition aircraft throughout the Central Command region.
The Minnesota personnel include:
SMSgt Richard Kaufman
MSgt Rachel Micken
MSgt Eric Johnson
MSgt Alex Caturia
MSgt Kelsi Lilliberg
TSgt Shelly Zupetz
TSgt Lynsey Anttila
TSgt Scott Nelson
TSgt Darick Kvam
SSgt Eric Vanark
SSgt Adam Reynolds
SSgt CJ Slocum
SSgt Wyatt Simonson
SSgt Dwight Barton
SSgt Makayla Nordean
A1C Cali Rukavina