On the first full day of spring last year, Marion County Deputy Sheriff Tony Hanks got the call to go to war.
A religious affairs specialist in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Tech Sgt. Hanks was told on March 21, 2018, a year ago today, that he was needed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
He would only have 11 days to prepare.
The short time frame, coupled with the fact that he would deploy on Easter Sunday, created a difficult scenario. Still, Hanks knew what his role was as a Reserve Citizen Airmen.
“When I first got the call, I did what any smart married man would do and said let me talk to my wife real quick,” said the 307th Bomb Wing’s non-commissioned officer in charge of chapel operations.
“Cindy understood though, just as much as I did, what the implications of me being in the military were and that my job was to train and be ready to deploy, just like any other Airman.”
At first glance, only having 11 days to get ready for a deployment would appear daunting. However, the short timeline didn’t hold Hanks up at all because he was already prepared to go. “He was able to move out so quickly because he met all the standards and qualifications he needed to be ready to deploy,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Brown, Wing Chaplain for the 307th BW and one of Hanks’ supervisors.
“He didn’t have anything holding him back from deploying when he was called upon.” After going through some pre-deployment combat training and other stops along the way, Hanks arrived at Bagram Air Field, and began serving as the non-commissioned officer in charge of the base’s east side religious affairs.
“Being in charge of the ministry center was one of my most important jobs,” said Hanks “It was one of the few places where people could go to relax, maybe eat something or watch a movie, and just try to get away from the fact that we were at war.”
Hanks helped to keep both spiritual wellness and morale high on Bagram’s east side in more ways than just running the ministry center. “Going out to meet and counsel some of the troops, helping run religious services, distributing care packages, and running an airman’s attic were my other responsibilities,” said Hanks.
Bagram wasn’t the only base Hanks made his presence felt. A few months into his deployment, he was sent to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. There, he was assigned to assist the head chaplain of Train Advise Assist Command-Air, the multinational effort to build Afghanistan’s air force.
“The chaplain I was with traveled outside the wire frequently to meet with the head chaplain of the Afghan air force,” said Hanks. “As his assistant, it was my job to provide for his security and protection when he was off-base since chaplains are non-combatants and can’t carry a weapon.”
He also ran the community center at HKIA, providing the service for the over 5,000 people that worked on the base. “I would schedule the auditorium for religious services and other rooms for different events” said Hanks. “I also put on a different morale-boosting events and social activities, like movie nights in the center, so that the troops would have something to do instead of just work and sleep.”
Hanks also continued to coordinate operations at the ministry center in Bagram while at HKIA.“I had just gotten the keys to a newly renovated building that we were going to move the ministry center into when I was redeployed to Kabul,” said Hanks.
“I had to coordinate ordering and moving in new furniture, electronics and all of the other things the new building needed while still keeping up with my duties at HKIA. Out of all the roles Hanks took on while deployed, he views his biggest responsibility as making connections with the other airmen.
“The interactions I had with other troops and the relationships was to me the most important job I had,” said Hanks. “Just being someone for people to talk to to work out their issues, especially given the situation we were in, was absolutely where I felt I did the most good.” In spite of the quick deployment, heavy workload, and often strenuous conditions, which included indirect enemy fire, Hanks not only persevered but thrived.
For his efforts, Hanks was awarded several medals and commendations, including the Air Force and Army achievement medals. Brown believes the success Hanks’ had on deployment is representative of the skills and the character he brings to the table as a reserve citizen airman.
“The fact he was given so many responsibilities and sent to different bases during his deployment speaks volumes about his skills and capabilities,” said Brown. “They don’t just give these taskings to any airman. They want the best, and he definitely has shown himself to be that.”
Marion County Sheriff David McKnight said the arrangement with Hanks works well. “I’m a veteran, myself,” McKnight said. “We support veterans.” In spite of the quick deployment, myriad of responsibilities and inherent dangers associated with life at Bagram, Hanks wouldn’t have changed anything about his deployment.
“I think that no matter where I was or what I was doing while deployed, I was always right where I needed to be when I needed to be there,” said Hanks. “I knew that wherever I was, I always had a reason and purpose that I was trained and prepared for.”
Special thanks to A1C Maxwell Daigle, 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs / Published February 18, 2019 for providing the Jimplecute with the content of this story.
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