U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Two security forces NCOS left their families and friends at the Air Force Academy to join the more than 100,000 service members who deploy annually around the world to secure U.S. interests.
Master Sgt. Jovonnie Walter is in south Asia and Tech. Sgt. Troy Umstead is in southwest Asia. They’re among the 250 Airmen assigned to the Academy who deploy every year.
“The Academy has a unique mission but we still send Airmen downrange,” said Master Sgt. Ivette Walter, Jovonnie’s wife of 10 years and the 10th Medical Group’s Family Health flight chief. “We’re just like any other Air Force base supporting the U.S. expeditionary mission.”
Jovonnie provides intelligence information to combat forces. It’s his sixth deployment in 17 years of military service.
“It’s a new role for me,” he said. “I’ve grown as a leader and this deployment has taken me outside my comfort zone as a security forces NCO. Getting to work and communicate with other branches of the U.S. military and other nations has been a great experience.”
Jovonnie’s duties require regular travel throughout the region.
“Almost every pilot graduated from the Academy,” he said. “When I tell them where I’m stationed, they think it’s pretty awesome. It’s cool to see former cadets, now pilots, giving me and thousands of others a lift.”
Like most senior NCOs deployed to south Asia, Jovonnie has his own living space. He works 10-12 hour shifts Monday through Saturday, a schedule that “makes time fly by,” he said.
Jovonnie spends his Sundays doing laundry; his favorite recreational activity is weightlifting.
“That’s what matters to me when I deploy,” he said. “I’ll compete in two bodybuilding events when I return so I must be ready.”
Jovonnie occasionally grapples with the region’s sandstorms.
“It makes it interesting when you’ve just stepped outside of the shower,” he said.
Troy is part of a security detail that has him working closely with Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents. He’s deployed six times in 11 years of military service. He said his deployment has been unique.
“Working with coalition forces here presents a big learning curve,” he said.
Troy shares a small living space with one coworker. He says he’s lucky as some junior service members have three roommates. He’s always on-call and reports for duty every day. During his free time, he watches TV or exercises. His said his evening runs are complicated by local burn pits filled with smoldering trash.
“If we run at night, we’re coughing and hacking for the next three days,” Troy said.
Jovonnie and Troy say their deployments would be difficult if not for their families’ love and support.
“Ivette is my better half -- she’s made this and the other deployments easy,” Jovonnie said. “I feel great knowing she takes care of the home while I’m away. Her unit and her leadership support her and they’ve reached out to me as well.”
Troy and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Ashley Umstead, the NCO in charge of Standardization and Evaluation at the 10th SFS, are the parents of a daughter. The Umsteads have been married five years.
“I don’t know if I could do this without Ashley,” Troy said. “We’ve had some family issues during this tour and she’s done more than I could ever expect. She always has a smile for me and never
complains. I can’t really put into words how important Ashley is to my deploying. It really helps that she understands everything I’m going through here and is able to keep me grounded and itching to come home.”
Ashley and Ivette say juggling work and life isn’t easy without their husbands, but both seem to take the temporary separation in stride.
“It’s been challenging at times but the important thing is to stay busy so that time goes by and you don’t feel lonely,” Ivette said. “As soon as Jovonnie left, little things started breaking. The snow didn’t help the situation so I had to shovel, something he usually takes care of.”
Ivette deployed to Bagdad, Iraq, in 2009, leaving Jovonnie to tackle the domestic responsibilities.
“He had to take care of the dogs all by himself and realized it was harder than he thought,” she said.
Ashley misses Troy but understands his deployment commitment.
“I’m proud of Troy and try to handle the family responsibilities so he can focus on the mission and stay safe,” she said.
Ivette says couples can successfully endure separation during a deployment.
“It will hurt and you will be sad but it will get better,” she said. “The important thing is to trust your partner and keep the lines of communication open.”
“Keep an open line of communication but understand they don’t need to know everything just as you don’t need to know everything,” she said. “If you’re having an awful day or you’ve got a cold or the kid puked all over the bedroom or things of this nature, they don’t need to worry about it. Let them know you’re OK and things are going as well as can be. They might be dealing with things there that you don’t need to know about -- all it will make you do is worry. They’ll let you know they’re OK. Keep yourself busy but take a break every once in a while. You’ll need it.”
Ashley hopes Academy staff members remember their deployed coworkers.
“It’s a very real fact we deploy, so don’t forget about those who have,” she said. “Take care of their families.”
Lt, Col. Michael Shirley, the 10th SFS commander, said the support and understanding of friends and families during a deployment is more than simply essential.
"We can't overestimate the value of the role our families and friends have in terms of our deployment mission," he said. "Master Sergeant Walter, Technical Sergeant Umstead, and all our deployed defenders rely on the strength and support of their families and friends to help them get through many months of separation while they're down range. The commitment to the Mission, Airman
and families cannot be measured."