Local Air Guardsmen deploying to Africa

April 21, 2009 12:14:11 PM PDT
Days after an American sea captain was rescued from pirates off the coast of Somalia, there is a new call to protect U.S. ships. California Senator Dianne Feinstein wants armed security teams placed on American-flagged vessels. This, as 30 Air National Guardsmen from the Bay Area are heading to that volatile part of the world. They will serve in Djibouti, an east African nation right next to Somalia.

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After a year of fighting wildfires in Northern California and rescuing hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast, Air National Guardsmen at Moffett Field are trading civilian operations for a military mission.

On Tuesday, they head to Djibouti, in the horn of Africa.

"We've all worked together to prepare for this deployment, so any apprehension I may have had it went away and I feel very prepared to go," said Sgt. Maria Tubergen from Moffett Federal Airfield.

Djibouti is bordered by Somalia to the southeast. Hijackings by pirates, like the recent one involving an American crew, have made the region increasingly dangerous.

The guardsmen with the 129th Rescue Wing are not expecting to have any anti-piracy duties, but their commander says they are trained to support the Navy if necessary.

"Theoretically they could call us, should they need any additional support particularly in the medical arena with our para-rescue men trained as they are, should a mission arise," said squadron commander Col. Mark Sheehy.

Colonel Sheehy will pilot one of two tankers departing for the 40-day deployment. This is the third trip to Djibouti since 2005.

The 129th Rescue Wing's mission calls for aiding a task force based in Djibouti. That task force tries to bring stability to African nations by digging wells, building schools and bridges.

Tech Sgt. Tubergen volunteered at an orphanage in her off-hours. Now she's ready to return. The piracy plaguing the high seas is not a major concern.

"It's increased our alertness and where our ears are perked, but as far as worries, I think we are in good hands," said Sgt. Tubergen.

There will be a lot of goodbyes at Moffett Airfield in the coming days. Sixty airmen from the 129th Rescue Squad will leave for Afghanistan later this week.

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