SIOUX CITY | In the Sioux City base's largest employment deployment since the Vietnam War, nearly 300 members of the Iowa Air National Guard's 185th Air Refueling wing will depart for an overseas mission in October.
The series of deployments, scheduled to last until January, will range from 30 days to six months in numerous locations in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Pacific, 185th Wing Commander Col. Larry Christensen said Thursday. Nearly a third of the unit's airmen will be deployed during that time.
The largest segment of the deployments, consisting of nearly 200 members, will join members of the 133rd Test Squadron in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in six-month deployments in the Arabian Peninsula, where they will be stationed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Members will include the 185th Construction Engineering Squadron, food services, communications, supply, security forces personnel and members of the Intelligence, Public Affairs, Finance and Chaplain's offices.
The deployments are part of the Air Force’s pre-scheduled deployment period, designated as the units Reserve Component Period, which requires the Air National Guard to provide continuous year-round coverage, using units like the 185th to supply pre-designated numbers of airmen based on the kinds of jobs needed throughout the Air Force's global areas of responsibility.
An additional 100 members from the 185th operations and maintenance groups will depart for 30- to 120-day deployments in similar locations in the Persian Gulf region. In addition, they will support the continuous bomber presence in the Pacific Ocean at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
"Most of the people are already prepared to go," Christensen said Thursday at a news conference. "Because that's what we do here. We train and make sure they are ready to go."
Additional preparations, he said, include getting members accustomed to a different environment and to "make sure their families are ready for them to go."
Based at Sioux Gateway Airport, the 185th's main mission is to refuel planes-- while in the air-- for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and NATO with KC-135 Stratotanker refueling tankers. The unit has about 950 full and part-time members.
Christensen said the impact the deployments will have on the base will be "extensive" given the number leaving.
"We will continue as normal, probably at a slower pace, but we will continue as normal," he said.
"These people will be leaving jobs in the local community, leaving families, so that's the larger impact," the commander said. "I have to make sure I thank the entire Siouxland community for the amount of support we get."
The 185th has had smaller numbers of airmen deployed around the globe on a nearly constant basis in recent years.
The unit, which traces its roots to 1943 and World War II, flew fighter jets prior to 2003. This fall's deployment is the largest since the unit converted to refueling tankers in 2003, and the largest for the 185th since 1968, when the then-800 member unit was recalled to active duty and deployed to Vietnam with their F-100s jets.
During the year-long mission in southeast Asia, the unit's pilots flew 6,539 combat sorties and earned numerous military honors. Lt. Warren Brown was killed in action on July 14, 1967, becoming the first Air National Guard pilot to die in Vietnam. The 185th also lost two other airmen who were killed on active duty; one from a medical issue, and a second from an accident.