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Rallying the troops: Services unit offers touch of home

By Staff
CLEAR SKIES, HOT AND DRY Major Stephen G. Martin, a Meridian native and services commander of the 186th Air Refueling Wing, says the day's weather is predictable clear skies, hot and dry. His unit brings touches of home to Guard personnel on active duty in the desert. Submitted photo
Maj. Stephen G. Martin, a Meridian native, is the services commander for the 186th Air Refueling Wing. In civilian life, Martin is manager of public relations for the Communications Division of the Mississippi Development Authority in Jackson.
By Stephen G. Martin / special to The Star
June 10, 2002
Let me begin by saying that it has been great to keep up with the hometown over the Internet. I am at a base in the desert with my services folks from the 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian. We will be returning home soon on the Freedom Bird.
We left Meridian a week before the civil engineering folks did for our 90-day tour. I'm proud to say that members from our unit were the first to volunteer to extend their tours in order to meet mission requirements. To me, this is a great credit to the individuals serving our country that they placed the mission first and themselves second.
Let me tell you about hot'
You hear everyone talking about the heat over here being dry. Well, I'm here to tell you when it's 120 I've seen the temperature actually go to 139 it's hot. Dry or wet, it still feels like you're standing in front of a blow dryer set on high.
I figure when we make it home folks will think we are all a little crazy reaching for a sweater when it's 90. To us it will be a drastic drop in temperature.
I'm sure we will make the adjustment quickly. At least we will be able to take top bragging rights when someone complains about it being hot, "You have no idea what hot is. You think this is hot, well let me tell you that when I was over in…"
You understand what I mean. I don't think anyone will be able to top our story. I would be safe in saying that the weather man has a pretty easy job in making a daily forecast. About the only change would be in what order it's presented, clear skies, hot and dry.
Overseas assignment
Excitement and anticipation are the words that best describe our feelings on the way over. On the flight, you have quite a bit of time to reflect.
Several months ago, The Meridian Star ran a story about the neighbors who had all gotten together to tie yellow ribbons on their mailboxes for another Guard member that would be returning home. My mom and dad were involved with that.
Little did they, or even I, have any idea that not long afterwards I also would be leaving. I broke the news to them by reminding them of how much I enjoyed going to various places, and that now Uncle Sam was affording me an opportunity to visit another part of the world.
During one of our first worship services the chaplain spoke of how we are in a place referred to in the Bible as the Land of Ur. It does not seem that much as changed since the time Abraham called this place home.
While you do see shepherds tending flocks of sheep by the road accompanied by an occasional camel or two, you quickly look twice when a pick-up truck passes by with sheep in the back going to where ever they carry sheep to.
Here, I guess they have camel trailers like we have horse trailers. When you see a one loaded with camels pull up alongside, you know you are a long, long way from home. They even have weekly camel races.
Reminders of home
With the number of Bedouin tents set up around here, it begins to resemble the Neshoba County Fair, a giant house party. Depending upon where you are, the situations are similar in some aspects.
In Mississippi, on the weekend you may go to your cabin at the lake or to the deer camp. Here, folks leave town and go to their tent in the desert as a weekend get-a-way. An interesting contrast here is that you often see a huge TV satellite dish beside tents.
I took it as a good sign when I first walked into the dinning facility and noticed that the speakers were Peavey. Each time I walk in there, it reminds me of Meridian.
I'm the services commander for our operation here. We are the ones responsible for lodging, feeding and coordinating the various recreational activities for everyone during their tour. We are operating a gym, cardio tent, recreation center, two dinning facilities, a learning resource center and a morale trailer.
We have hosted several USO shows and cultural bazaars during our short time here. The Services Squadron is the backbone of support in this austere environment.
This experience has been the most memorable one of my career with the military as a traditional guardsman. Knowing that we have trained back home for the tasks we are performing here 24-7, and seeing how we fit into the big picture in the defense of our country, makes me extremely proud that I am an American from Meridian, Miss.
Our duty once a month at the base in Meridian is in support of the mission, but to actually be here, and be a part of history, brings it all home. We watch the news reports and turn to each other because we know the folks that are in the stories.
Putting a name with a mission drives home the point of the reality of all of this.
An honor to wear the uniform
One item you may find interesting is Services has a mother and daughter Technical Sgt. Glindice Wheaton and SRA Andrea Wheaton working together in the same career field, deployed together.
I know back home you find many sons and daughters of Guard members, but I think it's unusual to have both working in the same section and deployed at the same time to the same location.
For each of us here it has been a great experience. The Fourth of July will be here shortly. This holiday will take on a special meaning this year having had the opportunity to serve outside the continental United States.
Each one of us will stand a little taller as we see our flag proudly waving and knowing that ours is truly a blessed nation. Our freedom is not free. It is truly an honor to wear the uniform.

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