Tuesday, December 27, 2011

First Reserve Command Chief to serve in Iraq is among last to leave

by Capt. Cathleen Snow
920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

12/22/2011 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Command Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Delebreau, the 920th Rescue Wing's top enlisted man here, was not only the first Reserve command chief to support the war in recent years, but recently he became among the last 62 Airmen out of Iraq, just in time for the holidays Dec 22.

Being among the last to oversee the closure of Sather Air Base and the safe departure of its final 62 Airmen and 100 Soldiers "was a hair-raising experience," according to the Command Chief.

"I think it will take a couple of weeks to sink in. Like we really went down in history," he said.

The chief deployed last May and was supposed to be home around the Thanksgiving holiday after serving six months, but when the president announced the end of the war in recent months, he was extended to see things through.

Reeling with excitement to have him home for the holidays, his wife Maritza said, "Oh my God it's very exciting. I'm very happy because he came just before Christmas!"

Delebreau has been a busy man over the past few years with a four-month deployment to Haiti during Earthquake relief efforts in 2010, and in 2009 a six-month deployment to Ali Air Base, Iraq.

Committed to addressing the needs of Airmen and serving as the wing commander's advisor on the morale, health and welfare of the force, he was impressed by the nation's U.S. Airmen serving with him in Iraq.

"Every Airman there was totally amazing," he said. "A lot of good happened while we were there."

During his deployment, the elevated danger of rocket attacks cancelled all visits by outsiders, to include morale visits by entertainers, which made one of their first stops after shutting down the war very special.

The Airmen, Soldiers, Delebreau and Sather's wing commander, Maj. Gen. Anthony Rock, 321st Air Expeditionary commander, were treated to a performance by the Air Force Tops in Blue entertainment performance troupe on their way home for the holidays.

Afterward, the chief and the commander talked with the performers and told them they were a reflection of every Airman. Their primary jobs in the Air Force ranged from mechanic to medic and their passion in performing was like the shining star examples they've seen among all Airmen.

Leaving Iraq left him with these thoughts which he passed on to the Tops in Blue Airmen, "Never forget the energy and passion you have for this and carry it with you throughout your military career."

He maintains that every Airman must carry with them what motivates and inspires them to perform with excellence as he witnesses habitually.

In addition to pride in the troops, he has another reason to expand his chest. In addition to being the only Reserve command chief of a deployed U.S. Central Command wing consisting of Airmen from units across the globe, Chief Delebreau was an advisor to the senior enlisted Iraqis, teaching them how to better train their enlisted forces - a vital contribution during the transition.

But more than that, after nearly a decade at war, being the first Reserve command chief in the Middle East and Iraq is significant for Delebreau because he said it reinforced the fact that Reserve forces are willing and able to contribute to ongoing operations alongside active-duty and Guard members.

He said nearly half of the Airmen deployed there were Reservists and Guardsmen.

Now that he's home, "It's surreal to realize it was done. Okay the mission is done. We had one of the ceremonies in one of the Palaces. Everything was empty. It was a ghost town. Eerie," he said.

As their aircraft lifted of the Sather runway, Iraqis working in the nearby airfield operations tower left them with their last transmission. They "wished us well and thanked us."

Before leaving Iraq though, General Rock during his recent promotion ceremony there said in a speech, "We have shed blood together and what is built upon blood can never be torn down. I will always remember that."

Delebreau said he will never forget his experiences supporting Operation New Dawn and shutting down the war.

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