Kentucky Airman serves in Afghanistan for new friends and old

Story and photos by Sgt. Paul Evans, KY ADT 4 Unit Public Affairs and Historian Representative

120402-A-UH571-89croppedFORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathon Stribling, a 24-year-old native of Louisville, Ky., didn’t originally come to southern Afghanistan as part of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4 just for himself.

Stribling, a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Aerial Port Squadron came because of a friend from his previous deployment to Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base in 2011. That friend is fellow Airman and Louisville resident Staff Sgt. Austin McDonald.

“It was pretty funny, actually. When word of this deployment came up, me and him (McDonald) made a deal that if one of us committed to it, then the other one would follow,” Stribling recalled. “He committed and I followed.”

“Maj. (Walter) Leaumont came to our base and sparked our interest,” Stribling said. Leaumont is ADT 4’s Executive Officer. “I basically told Sgt. McDonald, ‘if you want to do this, I’ll go with you.’ He said he wanted to do it, we signed our names down, talked to Leaumont, and here we are.”

“Just packing, I knew how to pack for this deployment,” Stribling said of what he learned from his first deployment in 2011. “The first deployment, I packed everything and the kitchen sink. For this one, I kind of knew a little bit better.”

Stribling offered his thoughts about deploying with ADT 4, a unit that is predominantly filled with Army National Guardsmen.

“You get this stereotype of the Army being from the Air Force…no offense, that they’re all dumb grunts,” he explained. “Now being here, these are some of the greatest people I’ve met. There’s real good people here. It’s a good mission.”

“I think being around NCOs in the Army will make me a better NCO in the Air Force, just with discipline being stricter, dress and appearance, just everything in general,” Stribling added.

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathon Stribling (right) of Louisville, Ky. has his head ‘bandaged’ by Lexington, Ky.’s Staff Sgt. Robert Foushee (left) during first aid training in southern Afghanistan on March 9, 2012. Stribling, a member of the Louisville, Ky. based 123rd Aerial Port Squadron, is currently serving on his second deployment. (Photo by U.S. Army  Sgt. Paul Evans)

“Being away from home for this long is different,” Stribling noted. “We only deploy four month deployments (in the Air Force)…we’re here for a year. I think the time’s a challenge just being away from family.”

“I definitely miss my parents and my sisters, and I’m real proud to be here serving with the Army. My father was in the Army for 14 years,” Stribling explained. “It makes me feel pretty good that I’m also somewhat following in his footsteps.”

“My father, he’s kind of used to this being gone. My mother…it’s going to hit any mother hard when their son goes off,” Stribling said about how family is dealing with his deployment.

“My girlfriend, she’s not from a military family, so it’s hitting her pretty hard. It’s hard for her to cope without me being there,” he added. “They’re making it, though.”

Stribling recalled a few things he found surprising on his trip to Afghanistan.

“Just the chaos you see. They (Afghans) drive crazy,” he observed. “That’s the best way to put it. It’s kind of a culture shock, really. Just trying to compare it to home life–it’s a completely different world.”

“Back home in the States, you don’t see little six-year-old kids walking down the street carrying 30 pounds of water jugs,” Stribling added. “But here, it’s a normal thing.”

“How many aerial port guys can say that for a year they were in Afghanistan going outside the wire doing combat operations,” Stribling asked. “It’s a great experience.”

“The question is ‘what haven’t I learned?’ Weapons is not part of our skillset in the Air Force…and I’ve just been trained on several different weapons, been to a MRAP (mine resistant ambush-protected vehicle) driving course for three weeks, it’s the kind of stuff that I can’t get in the Air Force,” he said.

Spc. Joseph Bucaro, an Army Soldier from Louisville, Ky. met Stribling during intial pre-mobilization training in December 2011.

“He’s an easy going guy, easy to talk to,” Bucaro said. “He’s a good listener. When you’re stressed out, he talks to you.”

“Stribling’s a hard worker, he’s there when he needs to be, and he’s around when he doesn’t need to be, but he’s always there to learn and do his job,” Bucaro said. “All I can say is he’s helped out a lot of Soldiers with problems.”

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathon Stribling (second from left) of Louisville, Ky. poses for a group photo with the Airmen of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team 4 in southern Afghanistan on March 6, 2012. Stribling, a member of the Louisville, Ky. based 123rd Aerial Port Squadron, is currently serving on his second deployment. Also pictured (from left): Staff Sgt. Austin McDonald of Louisville, Ky.; Tech. Sgt. Bucky Harris of Lietchfield, Ky.; Staff Sgt. Jeff Ward of Georgetown, Ky.; and Staff Sgt. Raphael Williams of Louisville, Ky. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Paul Evans)

“Relationships, I think they’re what drive us,” Stribling observed. “As far as our security platoon, we’re like brothers in our platoon. We’d do anything for any one of us. I think that’s what keeps us going.”

Since arriving in Afghanistan in February 2012, unfortunate circumstances sent some of ADT 4’s members’ home. Among them was Army Sgt. David Spry of Winchester, Ky., who went home a few weeks after a knee injury while Stribling was at home on leave.

“Losing Sgt. Spry was hard. He was a real good buddy of mine. Like I said, we’re brothers,” Stribling recalled.

“It hurts to get up and go over there to his area and he’s not there,” Stribling said. “Especially me, coming back from leave and he’s gone…I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him.”

“But he’s been keeping in contact with us on Facebook, emailing, things like that. It kind of eases us a little bit to know he’s doing alright, that he’s getting the treatment he needs,” Stribling said.

Overall, Stribling had a positive recollection of his second Afghan deployment. However, he said he plans on taking time off deployments to attend school at the Univ. of Louisville afterwards.

“I don’t regret a minute of it,” Stribling noted. “Certain areas, I feel like we’re progressing. I don’t feel like we’re wasting our time, so that’s a good thing.”

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