Some years ago I moved to the Tidewater area in the extreme southeast corner of Virginia to accept a job at The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk.
I had been casually informed that this region, bordered by Chesapeake Bay to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, was a “military area.” That was a gross understatement.
The area was home to the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet, contingents of U.S. Marines, Navy Seals, amphibious units, and U.S. Army troops at Fort Story. Just across the James River/Hampton Roads area were Fort Monroe and Langley Air Force Base.
I soon learned some of my neighbors drove or were assigned to batttleships, aircraft carriers, submarines, Navy fighter jets or bomber wings. Early on I was commonly awakened — or kept awake — by the sounds of A-6 bombers and F-14 Tomcat fighters as they practiced “touch-and-gos,” simulating aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings in the airspace above my home.
It turned out my cul de sac — near the center of a circle-shaped planned unit development — was the visible turnaround point for pilots who flew just a few thousand feet above on training missions from Oceana Naval Air Station. Though their flights occasionally rattled dishes and my nerves, I realized my neighbors were my defenders.
They put themselves in harm’s way on my behalf, and later on behalf of two of my boys who were born under the wings of these missions. After six years in Virginia I never again considered the commotion of their training as anything but the sound of freedom.
Some died during the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages in 1980. Others perished at a Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. A Navy lieutenant commander, my neighbor, was severely injured in a shipwreck right at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. He was never the same.
I remember this as I consider the announcement Monday that more than 500 members of the 124th Fighter Wing based at Boise’s Gowen Field will depart for the Middle East this spring and summer — the Idaho Air National Guard’s first major deployment in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State.
As the Statesman’s John Sowell reported Tuesday, this mission involves the Air Guard’s A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, the fighter jet that has been used extensively against ISIS since last fall. Pilots and maintenance crews for the A-10 and other aircraft will be sent overseas with security officers, medical personnel and support staff.
Our area is no stranger to such deployments. In 2004-2005, some 2,000 Idaho Guard and Reserve members served in the Middle East and elsewhere. Three members of the Idaho Guard’s 116th Brigade Combat Team were killed in Iraq.
Because of the dangerous circumstances we live in, not a lot is going to be said about who our neighbors in the 124th are, or exactly what they will be doing when summoned to this action, or who they have left behind. But what can be said is that they will have our prayers, support and gratitude.
One thing I learned living in that military community decades ago is that there is no such thing as routine training or a routine mission. It is all one big risky business carried out by that man or woman in uniform who lives down the street.
Let’s never forget: Our neighbors are our defenders.