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Eight volunteers head to Iraq

Air National Guardsmen heading to Balad Air Base, Iraq, board a C-17 from the 172nd Airlift Wing at Tucson International Airport. Over the next few months the 162nd Fighter Wing will send several rotations of maintainers to support Guard F-16s operating in Iraq. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Air National Guardsmen heading to Balad Air Base, Iraq, board a C-17 from the 172nd Airlift Wing at Tucson International Airport. Over the next few months the 162nd Fighter Wing will send several rotations of maintainers to support Guard F-16s operating in Iraq. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Aircraft electrician Tech. Sgt. Joe Mazzei spends quality time with his daughter Morgan, 5, before departing for Balad Air Base, Iraq. Seven other maintainers from the 162nd Fighter Wing deployed with Mazzei Sept. 9 to support F-16 operations in Iraq. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

Aircraft electrician Tech. Sgt. Joe Mazzei spends quality time with his daughter Morgan, 5, before departing for Balad Air Base, Iraq. Seven other maintainers from the 162nd Fighter Wing deployed with Mazzei Sept. 9 to support F-16 operations in Iraq. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing deployed eight F-16 Fighting Falcon maintainers Sept. 9 to Balad Air Base, Iraq, for voluntary tours ranging from 45 to 120 days.

The Guardsmen bid farewell to family and friends at Tucson International Airport and boarded a C-17 from the Mississippi Air National Guard's 172nd Airlift Wing. For most, this deployment was a first.

"I've been asking to go for quite a few years and finally got the opportunity, so I'm excited," said Tech. Sgt. Joe Mazzei, an aircraft electrician slated to spend 120 days in Iraq.

"I'm anticipating that it will be hot, especially during the first few months. I'm also expecting 12-hour days, but I'm looking forward to that. It'll make the deployment go by fast. I just want to do my job and come back to my family," he said.

For the families of the deployed Airmen, the separation means the holidays this year will be spent without husbands, fathers and sons.

"We are well aware of the sacrifices our families are making," said Col. Greg Stroud, 162nd Maintenance Group commander. "For us here at home, our job will be to support them throughout the deployments and especially over the holidays."

Senior Master Sgt. Randy Rodriguez, the wing's aerospace ground equipment supervisor, will supervise the AGE shop at Balad. He says the maintainers and their families are well prepared for the months ahead.

"We're excited about going over there," said Sergeant Rodriguez. "We've all known each other for a while and it's good that we're all going together. We can help each other out, and it's nice to know that the Family Readiness Group, chaplains and the basically the whole wing will be here to help take care of families while we're gone."

The eight Guardsmen represent a full spectrum of aircraft maintenance specialties ranging from weapons to avionics. They are only the first installment of maintenance support to be sent from Tucson to Iraq. More will soon follow to augment large-scale deployments of Guard F-16 units from across the country. All together, about 50 Arizona Air Guardsmen will serve at the air base, located about 45 miles north of Baghdad.