NC Air Guard bids farewell, departs for Afghanistan

About 40 Charlotte-based airmen left Wednesday on a two-day journey to Afghanistan, the first step in a four-month deployment for the N.C. Air National Guard.

After farewells to family and friends, Guard members boarded a C-130 transport, one of three that will be based this summer at airfields in Afghanistan to haul cargo and soldiers in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Charlotte’s 145th Airlift Wing has 10 of the big transports, including two that are equipped to dump retardant chemicals on forest fires. Called MAFFS, for Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, those two aircraft will remain in Charlotte in case they are needed by the U.S. Forest Service this summer for blazes out west.

Two more C-130s with the second half of the force headed to Afghanistan will depart from the Air Guard base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Thursday morning. Included in the group headed overseas are technicians who keep the transports in working order during the deployment.

For Master Sgt. David Brown of Valdese, Wednesday’s departure was his third for a deployment in Afghanistan. He joined the Air Guard in 1992, and his first mission overseas was to Bosnia in the 1990s. He has also had two tours in Iraq.

Brown, 50, is a load master in charge of the transport’s cavernous cargo area. He is experienced with dumping loads out of the belly of the C-130 while airborne – everything from bottled water to fuel containers, which drift to the ground on strong parachutes – as well as delivering soldiers and cargo to airfields in more traditional landings.

A physical education teacher at Liberty Middle School in Morganton, he has been married for seven years to Jennifer Brown. He will miss their anniversary on July 3, but his wife said they’ve learned to take Air Force deployments in stride. “It just takes some planning,” she said. “We make do.”

Brown said the rugged terrain in Afghanistan reminds him of the mountains of Arizona in the summer and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming in the winter.

Also deploying on Wednesday were Capt. Catheryn Rodriguez and Master Sgt. Orlando Rodriguez, who are married. Lt. Carl Simcox left with a teddy bear sticking out of his gear. It was made by his wife and plays a recording of their unborn baby’s heartbeat.

Joining those at the Guard base to see the airmen off was Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., who greeted them personally, and Col. Marshall Collins of Rock Hill, who assumed command of the 145th Airlift Wing this month. In his 31 years in the Air Force, Collins has more than 6,000 hours of flying time aboard C-130s as a navigator.