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August Shirt Blast

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Carl Clegg, 169th Fighter Wing first sergeant at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Jan. 9, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Carl Clegg, 169th Fighter Wing first sergeant at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Jan. 9, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

Editor’s note: Clegg just returned from a three month deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he served at First Sergeant for the 169th Expeditionary Fighter Wing.

Tribal Warfare

When a combat deployment becomes more deployment than combat, frustration can become fatiguing. Every time an F-16 takes off loaded for bear and then lands again with the same load having found no bears, not even little baby bears, it can wear on you. Especially when you are hot, sweaty, bored, tired, missing family, missing birthdays, even literally missing the actual birth day of your child. And for what?

We all had differing reasons for swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. But that was then. What about now? What keeps an Airman coming back to this blistering patch of sand time and time again like an ex you just can’t quit?

This first sergeant got a front-row seat to the professional spectacle that is a maintenance deployment to the Middle East. My histories with the U.S. Marines, Army and now Air Force never included any extended time with maintainers. Better late than never. Like pantyhose, I’ve been in support so long I’ve never experienced what’s on the outside. What I found without looking for it was the very heart of the Air Force. The flight line is as close to the front lines as most Airmen get and it’s kind of addicting to witness the choreography of man and machine, of pilot and crew chief and flight line and back shops.

Like Groundhog Day though, each new day is a photocopy of the one before it. Wake up, eat, hot, loud, eat, hot, loud, sleep and repeat. If you went to a travel agency and asked for a vacation with those descriptors, you’d be sent to get your head examined. I encountered Airmen who have returned again and again as many as a dozen times. When asked, “Why?” the answer is usually some form of, “It’s my job,” or “I like the people I work with.”

It seems they’ve found their tribe. They show up each deployment to fight the fight, to bear the hardships and the time away from families, but not alone. Never alone. This is tribal warfare. There is a partnership in the hardship—a shared suffering among the weather-worn, sun-bathed masses, especially in shops like ammo, where there was a geographical distance from the rest of the Swamp Fox Airmen. There was an obvious closeness among them. Something similar was true for other shops that had regular cook outs. There is an authenticity in the connections made during a deployment that absolutely carry back to home-station and are a potential lesson for those who haven’t deployed in a while, or ever.

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, positive-thinking, Instagram post- find your tribe, or take the initiative to create one in your work center if one doesn’t exist. The Air Force’s “wingman culture” seeks to assure Airmen that someone’s got their back by making it the every-day practice that Airmen know that he or she belongs to a tribe. Maybe that tribe isn’t as big as the Air Force or as small as the Swamp Fox organization. Maybe that tribe is even smaller—like your shop. Regardless of your rank or position, take the initiative to examine your work center. Ask the Airmen what they think about the culture in which they work. Are there cliques that drive Airmen to the fringes? No Air Force program will improve the culture of an organization without individual initiative. Expand your tribe today and improve someone else’s tomorrow.