Lt. Col. Bill Hughes is heading to Iraq with a new insignia on his uniform and Clemson on his mind
By Beth Jarrard
Bill Hughes had three weeks notice to prepare to leave Clemson for his latest active-duty mission. The last time this Air Force Reservist was deployed, he had three days.
“I got the call on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to report that Sunday,” said Hughes of his 2003 experience.
He logged more than 460 hours of combat flight time over Iraq and Afghanistan during four 120-day deployments to Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait and Qatar.
This time the soon-to-be-promoted Lt. Col. Hughes will be assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group at Joint Base Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad. The group has eight squadrons with 250 assigned aircraft, including F-16s, Predators, C-130s and Sikorsky HH-60 helicopters, responsible for 480,000 combat operations per year.
As deputy group commander, Hughes will be responsible for “anything that has an impact on combat flight operations,” he said, including aircrew readiness and tactics, airspace management, and airfield construction and maintenance that would interfere with normal operations.
It’s familiar territory for Clemson’s director of maintenance and minor construction. He joined the University staff in 2000 as director of maintenance, but through various retirements, he took on the oversight of small construction projects as well.
Most recently, these small projects — less than $500,000 — have included renovations at Cooper Library and Lehotsky Hall auditorium, and creating a new student lounge in McCabe Hall.
Since a 2008 hiring freeze and subsequent retirements incentives, the department has thinned its ranks from a high of 140 to 96 skilled craftsmen and laborers. Some projects now have to be outsourced to local sub-contractors.
Hughes plans to stay involved with the University and his department electronically.
“I’ll be watching the budget and monitoring projects through the Internet,” said Hughes, who spends much of his work day in front of computer screens, crunching numbers and charting the progress of numerous jobs.
His connection to Clemson goes back to when he participated in Air Force ROTC while earning a degree in civil engineering in 1985.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Hughes served on active duty until 1997, when he began his civilian career with a natural gas transportation company in Birmingham, Ala. Three years later, he returned to Clemson.
He had been expecting another deployment for some time. The Air Force Reserve Command, headquartered at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga., is responsible for matching up needs with available personnel, and the pieces finally fell into place Dec. 6 with an out-processing date of Dec. 27.
He’ll be leaving behind his wife, Andrea, who is an intensive-care nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Greenville, and a 24-year-old son. But he plans to stay in touch via cell phone and e-mail.
During a previous deployment, he tried communicating via Skype, a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. A really bad connection yielded less-than-impressive results.
“Phone calls are really the best,” said Hughes, explaining that military personnel can get a toll-free connection to a military operator in the states.
“It helps to stay as connected a possible,” he said. “Transition is much easier when you return.”
He’s not sure what the living conditions will be like at Joint Base Balad. The last time he occupied a 10’x10’ modular unit with metal bunk beds, metal lockers and showers and toilets in a separate building.
Hughes said friends have started asking what they can send him to make his temporary home more livable and life more comfortable. The sentiment is appreciated, but CARE packages are not necessary.
“Balad is a large base, so the food should be pretty good,” Hughes said. “Besides, packages are often delayed and home-baked foods arrive stale. And we really don’t have room for a lot of extra stuff.”
What Hughes looks forward to most is mail — either e-mail, addressed to his Clemson username firstname.lastname@example.org or postal mail, addressed to:
Col. Bill Hughes
APO AE 09315
“What the U.S. military is doing is important, so this assignment is exciting, but on the other hand, there is apprehension,” Hughes said.
You can bet he will be keeping up with the goings-on at Clemson. Here’s hoping Clemson will keep him in its collective thoughts and prayers.