OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma Air National Guardsman who was wounded during a rocket attack in Iraq has returned to the United States. Tech. Sgt. Ariel White, logistics management specialist with the 219th Engineering Installation Squadron (EIS), 138th Fighter Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, was wounded in action on March 11, while deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
After a brief stay at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, White returned to the U.S. via Andrews Air Force Base and then to Kelly Field, San Antonio for complete medical treatment March 21.
Air crew and ground support from the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 137th Special Operations Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, are currently deployed in support of military operations conducted in the Middle East. By complete chance, three of the medical air crewmembers from the 137th AES were on the flight with White from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, and again provided care for her on the flight from Germany to Kelly Field, San Antonio.
As White was loaded on the aircraft, 1st Lt. Stephenie Tatum, flight nurse with the 137th AES, immediately approached her and identified herself and four other Airmen from the 137th AES, and gave her a unit patch. After speaking for a few minutes, they identified a mutual friend. White said she had an immediate feeling of comfort.
“I felt safe and relieved to see them because I didn’t think I was going to know anybody,” White said. “The fact that I sort of knew people on the flight because I know where they are from or they know people I know made me feel safer.”
White praised the 219th EIS command and leadership who have sent flowers, continually ask what they can do and have even had lunch with White’s family in Oklahoma.
“I am definitely feeling the connection of family with the 219th [EIS], 138th [FW], and other units I haven’t even thought about, like the 137th [SOW],” White said. “Everybody has stepped up and made me feel comfortable. I feel a sense of family and connection more than I ever had before. I always knew that existed but now I am really feeling it.”
Lt. Col. Stephanie Lane, 137th AES acting commander, has worked overseas with Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard who wore the iconic Thunderbird unit patch. She said it was comforting for White to have some home away from home on her return flight to the U.S.
“When you get on the plane and you see morale patches from Oklahoma that you recognize, you see something come over [the air crew and patients] that’s special,” Lane said. “[The aeromedical Airmen] see they are taking care of their own and the patient sees a little bit of home. When you have that much in common it becomes easier. To have everything in common, it’s a comfort.”
Tech. Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts, 28, of Owasso, Oklahoma, who lost his life during the same attack, was the first Oklahoma Air National Guardsman killed in action, and the 20th Oklahoma National Guardsman who has died while deployed overseas since Sept. 11, 2001.
The 219th EIS deploys worldwide to establish communications systems for American and allied forces and ensure they remain functional. They deployed to Iraq in late 2019.