Language of compassion: Airman's unit steps in during deployment

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
When Airman 1st Class Jules Gounongbe received word in December 2011 that he would be deployed for six months, the news gave him exactly one week to prepare to leave his young family. Preparations are always challenging for families, but for Gounongbe, who would be leaving for his first deployment the day after Christmas, the days ahead would present a host of new worries and sleepless nights.

First, his wife, Annabel, was seven months pregnant. Second, the Ivory Coast native had only recently arrived in the U.S. during the Thanks-giving holiday to be with her husband.

And, oh by the way, she spoke very little conversational English.

"It was a confusing time. I didn't know exactly what to expect or where I was going. I was very worried about my family," recalled Gounongbe, also from the Ivory Coast.

Gounongbe, who works in Clothing and Issue with the 116th Logistics Readiness Squadron, and his wife married in 2009. They also have a 3-year-old daughter, Perla.

"My wife doesn't speak English very well, so for her to go to places like Wal-Mart was impossible," he continued. "She had no driver's license. She was mad at me at the time for leaving, but of course this is my job."

Gounongbe recalled meeting with his first sergeant just before leaving to discuss his concerns.

"It created a few obstacles," said Master Sgt. Robert Goodwin, 461st Support Squadron first sergeant. "First and foremost, Staff Sgt. Chadidscha Willis offered for the family to move in and live with her, while he was deployed," he added.

Willis is a coworker of Gounongbe.

He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing his wife would be taken care of while he was away. But the good deeds didn't stop there. The whole squadron really came together to support the family until Gounongbe returned in late May. His wife would even go shopping with Annabel to pick out baby items. Interpreters from the community also volunteered to accompany Annabel, who spoke French, to scheduled doctor visits.

Gounongbe called his wife repeatedly the first month he was away, but after a time she instead gave him words of encouragement to allay any fears he had.

"You don't have to worry about me," he remembered his wife saying. "Just be safe over there." He was also able to Skype with his wife after their son, Kayden, was born Feb. 16.
It allowed him to see and hear the newest member of the family.

"I was so happy to see my baby for the first time," he said. "Everyone is doing well since I've been home. "You know, when I think about it, I knew at the time that if my wife or kids needed something, my coworkers would be there," he added. "It's so amazing - it's like one big family."