Be prepared

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Most people who have been associated with the Boy Scouts of America are familiar with the Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Although the father of Scouting, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, developed this motto almost 100 years ago specifically for Scouts, it applies today more than ever to the men and women serving in the expeditionary Air Force of the 21st Century.

In late 1999, the Air Force implemented the Aerospace Expeditionary Force concept. There were several factors that drove the development of the AEF. The two most important of these were: the AEF provided a logically-organized structure during periods of surge operations to supply near seamless support to Combatant Commanders, and secondly, the AEF construct provided a level of predictability to allow Airmen to plan their future.

Although the AEF (now called the Air and Space Expeditionary Force) has changed since its inception from a 15-month cycle with 90-day deployments to a 20-month cycle with 120-day deployments with more significant changes on the horizon, it appears to be a permanent fixture within the Air Force for the foreseeable future. To succeed in an expeditionary Air Force, every Airman must be prepared!

As a Logistics Readiness officer, I have participated in the deployment of thousands of Airmen and have deployed multiple times myself. Additionally, having served as a deployed squadron commander, I have personally witnessed and had to deal with many of the stresses our Airmen encounter while working in a deployed environment. A little preparation and planning prior to deployment can make the difference between a smooth deployment and one filled with confusion and worry.

I offer the following three basic suggestions, especially to first-time deployees. Although by no means a comprehensive list, and not typically found on a pre-deployment checklist, if implemented, they will go a long way toward ensuring a successful deployment:

1. Be prepared physically. In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of deployment preparation. Some deployment locations require months of working 12-hour days six or seven days a week, while operating in austere/harsh climate conditions wearing 40 pounds or more of individual body armor, Kevlar helmet, weapons and ammo. When combined with less than ideal sleeping accommodations (open bay barracks or tents with noisy neighbors and routine mortar attacks) these conditions can take their toll on even the most physically fit.

Furthermore, in a deployed minimally-manned environment, health problems typically have a much greater impact on work section productivity than at home station. They can prevent the member from performing his or her assigned duties and, in some cases, force the member to be redeployed before their scheduled rotation date for treatment, thereby creating the need for a unit to backfill the returnee. The most qualified personnel are of little value if they are not physically able to perform their deployed duties, so get and stay in good physical condition.

2. Be prepared mentally. Each Airman and their family members must accept the fact they will likely deploy. Although every Airmen is supposed to be assigned to an AEF bucket to provide predictability, the reality is, some career field managers have been forced to dip into future AEF buckets to fill deployment taskings. This practice has significantly reduced the predictability of deployment. For many career fields, the question is not will I deploy, but when will I deploy again?

The timing of most deployments will typically come at the most inopportune time. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, the birth of babies and the death of extended family members may take place during a member's deployment. And since leave (except for emergency leave) is not authorized in the AOR, the deployed member must recognize they may not be present for these important events.

Equally important, the member must prepare their family to cope with their absence. As an example, during my last deployment, I had approximately a dozen Airmen who missed the birth of their child. Additionally, I had to tell an equal number of Airmen they could not travel back to the States to attend the funeral or grieve with their family after the death of a grandparent, aunt or uncle. In short, remember the Air Force core value of "Service Before Self."

3. Be prepared fiscally. This is a very broad category which encompasses activities unique to each Airman. A primary concern for every Airman regardless of marital status is to have a reliable mechanism in place to ensure bills are paid in full and on time while deployed. Ensuring bills are paid may be as simple as setting up an automatic payment plan with the member's service provider or lender.

The solution will depend on the complexity of the member's personal situation. Having a fellow Airman pay your bills during your deployment is not always the best solution and has come back to haunt some service members! Remember, paying your bills is your responsibility regardless of your deployed status or location.

Married Airmen need to ensure their spouse has an appropriate power of attorney (if applicable) and access to funds to maintain the household during the member's deployment. Equally important, the spouse remaining at home must know when bills are due and where/how to pay them as well as having access to the location of important documents (insurance, lease, birth certificates, etc.). Keep your personal affairs in order.

Although the suggestions offered above are very basic and should be considered as common sense, I can assure you Airmen will deploy who are not fully prepared. When in doubt about anything deployment related, I encourage you to use all available resources at your disposal. Your Unit Deployment Manager and First Sergeant should be your first stops.

Additionally, seek out other Airmen who have deployed previously and determine what they did that worked well and what they will do differently to prepare for their next deployment. A little preparation will pay big dividends during your deployment.