HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Erin Mcanlay, 35, was married all of three weeks last September when her husband, Master Sgt. Jacques Mcanlay, received orders to deploy on a seven-month mission to the Middle East with his unit at Hill Air Force Base.
A former Air Force employee herself, she knew the chances of such a separation was possible when she took her vows, but having to endure a prolonged period away from her new spouse would be a test for both of them.
"Honestly, it's been hard but we (would) talk every day and we (would) video-chat every day so that's been super helpful. A lot of people aren't as fortunate," she said. "We've been really lucky that we've been able to stay in contact and have that throughout this time."
She noted being a spouse is a different experience than when as a co-worker she welcomed people home from deployment. This time was much more emotional.
"It was definitely harder. When you're the co-worker, you're like, 'I gotta pick up the slack (because) they're not there,'" Mcanlay explained. "But when it's your husband and they're not home, everything falls on your shoulders and they're half a world away and want to support you from there."
She said the availability of technology to support daily communication was key in bridging the distance created by the physical separation, but they still missed each other a lot.
"It kind of comes in waves," she said.
While the distance was an issue at times, they were able to do things to strengthen their marital bonds by doing Bible reading plans together, praying together and building solid communication in their time apart, she added.
"With technology nowadays, we felt like we were together even though we were separated and thousands of miles apart," said Master Sgt. Jacques Mcanlay.
On Monday, 128 members of the 729th Air Control Squadron returned home from a seven-month deployment in support of operations that contributed to the defeat of the ISIS caliphate in Syria, a news release states.
“Our mission is to deploy on short notice to anywhere in the world and provide combatant commanders with persistent 24/7 battle management command and control of joint air operations,” said 729th Commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Digsby. “We are extremely proud of our men and women who have performed their duties flawlessly, and we are excited to have them back.”
During the deployment, members provided aircraft control and air surveillance across 1.1 million square miles of airspace over U.S. Air Force Central Command in the region, explained Col. John Bartoli, commander of the 552nd Air Control Group, the parent command for the 729th. He said the unit from Hill Air Force Base included surveillance technicians, weapons directors, and datalink experts tasked with directing tactical execution of the military air component for the mission.
He noted that maintenance personnel in various specialties including radar, radio, cyber transport, power production and vehicles worked around the clock to maintain the squadron’s equipment in several locations across the theater to keep the operation fully mission capable.
"It was a very wide-ranging mission (with) a lot of facets to it — very complicated. The one thing that is always necessary is the need to manage air support and air space in support of whatever is going on over there on the ground," he said. "They managed the air space and made sure that air support in all its forms and fashions were at the right place at the right time to support whatever (U.S. Central Command) needed done in the region."'
The unit deploys regularly, Bartoli said, typically with new members involved each time. He said despite the relative youth pervasive within the unit, the members "crushed it" while on this last assignment.
"Measuring success is difficult and it's probably more art than science," he explained. "We've heard from commanders on the ground and in the air that the support they've gotten from the 729th has been exceptional."
He explained this particular mission was "high stakes" due to the nature of its purpose to defeat the Islamic state terrorist organization. Taking down a caliphate requires forcibly gaining control of territory taken over by ISIS, he said. This latest mission was able to accomplish much of the goal of retaking large sections of the previously enemy-controlled territory, he added.
"There has been an entire allied (multination) effort that has nibbled away and pounded away at the ISIS caliphate to take away their territory, degrade their combat capability and to force them back into a mode where they are more a traditional kind of insurgency," Bartolti explained.
"It's a very wide-ranging, complex effort that spans multiple countries. Every time ground forces needed air power to influence the battlefield, the 729th made sure that air power was in the right space at the right time doing the right things to contribute substantively to the degradation of ISIS."