Saipan native returns home, supports typhoon exercise


From left, Lt. Col. Shane Nagatani, 199th Fighter Squadron commander, Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, senior airman Mark Abrihan, 36th Communications Squadron radio technician, and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres gather during an F-22 static display tour last April 23, 2019, at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport. (Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Being stationed overseas in a foreign country is quite an adventure, but for some airmen, home is always where the heart is. This is especially understandable when growing up on a small tropical island.

That was the experience of senior airman Mark Abrihan, who was born and raised on Saipan.

Early on in his college education, he decided to shift directions and become the first member of his family to enlist in 2015 with the intent of trying something completely different; and the Air Force delivered. Halfway through his technical training as a radio technician, he was informed of his first assignment—a yearlong tour at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

Abrihan said he enjoyed his overseas experience and was able to visit several other European countries and support a vital NATO mission, but when given the opportunity to relocate to Andersen Air Force base, Guam, Abrihan didn’t hesitate to accept, knowing it was only 130 miles away from his home island.

His career progressed and he reacclimated to his new island community in the 36th Wing. He said being closer to his family and friends was important to him, since they’re now only about an hour’s flight away.

“After my assignment in Turkey,” said Abrihan, “I realized that every opportunity to go home is very special. I feel lucky because not a lot of active duty airmen get stationed so close to home. I’d just like to enjoy this while it lasts, because you never know what’s in store next.”

Abrihan’s new duty station, Andersen AFB, is known for hosting large-scale exercises with military forces from around the world. Its strategic location has played a key role in projecting air superiority and maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

While having a military presence in Guam is an invaluable asset, the island is susceptible to a multitude of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons—all potential scenarios Abrihan grew up with.

As an initiative to improve mission readiness and protect valuable aircraft in the face of inclement weather, Pacific Air Forces held a new training exercise called Resilient Typhoon. The exercise entails a rapid dispersal of flying squadrons and support personnel to various neighboring islands, such as Palau, Tinian, Yap and Abrihan’s home island, Saipan.

“I was working in my shop, thinking it was going to be a regular day, until my section chief came up and told me that I’m going home for a temporary assignment. This got me thrilled and so I started immediately pushing paperwork and prepping up.”

Within days of being informed about his temporary assignment, Abrihan was bound for home on a C-130J Super Hercules from Yokota Air Base, Japan. He was tasked to support a team of F-22 Raptors and support personnel, based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, during their inaugural appearance at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.

After Abrihan’s aircraft touched the ground, pallets of aircraft ground equipment were offloaded, followed by the first arrival of the “Hawaiian Raptors.”

This rapid-deployment was a collaboration of active-duty airman from Guam, Japan, and Hawaii and the Hawaii Air National Guard. This combination of military components is known as total-force integration.

The event also turned out to be a unique occasion for government officials, first responders and aviation enthusiasts. Representatives from the 19th and 199th Fighter Squadrons hosted a static display tour for residents to see.

Abrihan said he was enthusiastic to be in the middle of the operation, although he could hardly wait to finish up his work so he could reunite with family and friends. However, while Abrihan was greeting his fellow islanders for the tour, one particular guest stood out and really made his day—Ralph DLG Torres, the governor of Saipan.

“This was a pretty big deal for me,” said Abrihan, “I didn’t expect Gov. Torres to be so interested in taking all that time to talk to me about my career. He was so happy to discover that I was born and raised [on] Saipan; he welcomed me with a hug. He also wanted to talk about my goals and other life ambitions.”

Along with the governor, Abrihan ran into another familiar face. His godfather, retired Col. Harry Blanco.

“He was surprised to see me as one of the ambassadors for Pacific Air Forces and was so proud to see me join the military,” said Abrihan. “It was really cool tell my dad all about it.”

With a non-stop and global mission, life in the Air Force is overflowing with possibilities. Some may not always be a homerun, but every now and then people find themselves being reunited with places they call home—wherever it may be.

John Linzmeier
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