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NEWS | Dec. 10, 2021

Minnesota Air Guard Airmen support Al Dhafra operations

By Master Sgt. Daniel Heaton, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

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. They provide critical infrastructure to keep the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at the base flying aircraft and supporting the Air Force mission in the Middle East.

“It’s a dirty job, and it never stops flowing,” said Tech. Sgt. Darick Kvam, a plumber with the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. He and Staff Sgt. Wyatt Simsonson, a fellow Minnesota plumber, keep water and sewage operations at ADAB flowing.

The CE plumbing job 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 administrative positions. The Airmen traditionally serve as the 148th home base in Duluth.

Staff Sgt. Makayla Nordean serves as the commander’s administrative assistant in the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. In Minnesota, she serves a similar role in her traditional one weekend per month duties. While the Duluth unit flies F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft and the 908th flies KC-10 Extenders, 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 getting lots of hugs from my 4-year-old students every day,” she said. “I really miss seeing kids every day.”

The Minnesota Airmen are serving about six months away from home and agreed it is a morale booster to have several people from their home unit at ADAB with them. This is the first major deployment for most of the group, and having a few friendly faces around is helpful.

As is typical 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, the administrative assistant to the 380th Wing’s command chief master sergeant.

The 380th Wing’s E-3 Sentries (AWACS), RQ-4 Global Hawks and KC-10 Extenders are a unique combination of aircraft that act 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.