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Veterans talk deployment uncertainty as Davis-Monthan AFB eyes Russia-Ukraine tension

DM AFB on “heightened preparedness” for deployment
Army veteran Tony Fennell discusses his experiences preparing for deployment, sitting inside VFW Post 549 in Tucson.
Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-29 00:31:27-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The U.S. Department of Defense identified Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as one of several military bases on a “heightened preparedness” for deployment to Ukraine, should Russia decide to invade the country.

“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy,” Defense secretary Lloyd Austin said in press briefing Friday.

“Even if and when we do move troops, the purpose of those troops deploying would be to reassure allies or directly in support of NATO, or both,” he added.

But as tensions build in Eastern Europe, so does uncertainty for Davis-Monthan families over a deployment that may or may not end up happening.

KGUN 9 visited VFW Post 549 in Tucson to speak with veterans about their experiences with that uncertainty.

“You just simply don’t know, but you prepare for the worst,” said Army veteran Tony Fennell, who spent much of his 31-year service in the Army Reserves.

Fennell had a family and civilian job in the 1990s, while being told to prepare for deployments to both the Gulf War and Yugoslav Wars.

“I was in command of an engineer battalion in Milwaukee, and we were up, down, up down. Maybe yes, maybe no,” he recalled. “We were in a heightened state of readiness, but we were in a more heightened state of uncertainty.”

Fennell was not deployed to the Gulf War.

“I had my bags packed Thursday for a Saturday flight. And boom, on Friday it was canceled,” he said.

But Fennell and his family did have to follow through on their planning the second time, as he was sent to the Balkan Peninsula.

He says his family had to settle legal affairs and power of attorneys before he left, while also adjusting to the fact that he would be gone for an extended period of time.

Fennell finds both similarities and differences between his situation then and Davis-Monthan airmen now.

“They know, ‘If something happens, it’s you.’ In our case, it was, ‘Well, something is happening and it might be you,’” he said.

Fennell says he got support from his employer and his family had time to prepare, but it was still difficult to feel mentally ready while not knowing if he would be deployed or not.

Before a long career with the Navy and Department of Defense, Michael Bartholomew served in the Army in Vietnam for nearly two years.

At that time, being deployed was no surprise to him. He acknowledged some of the changes since then.

“I notice that in the new military these guys are bouncing back and forth,” Bartholomew said. “They’re going over for a shorter period. But they’re going over more often. I kind of think that’s really tough on the family. But I know that they have to do what they have to do.”

An active duty military member told KGUN 9 that deployments carry uncertainties and uneasiness about how long they will last—even ones that appear to be a show of support for allies or lead to an accomplished mission.

Davis-Monthan personnel were not immediately available for an interview, but a representative shared with KGUN 9, a webpage providing resources for personnel and families preparing for deployment.

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