Unaka High School graduate deployed overseas during holiday season

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

  
While many across the nation gathered their loved ones together to celebrate the holidays, Eva Heatherly prayed for her son who is spending the holiday season far away from his family, friends, and home in the United States. Senior Master Sgt. Mike Arnold arrived at his new post with the U.S. Air Force in Uzbekistan earlier this week.
   The Unaka High School graduate was part of McChord Air Force Base's largest overseas deployment since Sept. 11, 2001. The Air Force base in Seattle, Washington has seen nearly 700 of its men and women deployed oversees during the past three months.
   The base recently began its air expeditionary force rotation. The rotation requires air bases to take turns deploying their troops for 90-day expeditions at various locations around the world.
   Arnold, who spoke with his mother several times during the days leading up to his departure, assured her that he was simply doing his job, and that he would be home soon. "He loves America. He loves his people, and he loves his family. He wants to go. He said others have been and now it is my turn," Heatherly said.
   The former Unaka football captain has enjoyed a successful career with the U.S. Air Force since he joined more than 20-years ago. He has served in Korea, Hawaii, and Japan.
   As a senior staff sergeant, Arnold will be serving as a superintendent of personnel while in Uzbekistan. He is with the 62nd Mission Support Squadron, and will be in charge of training and supervising subordinates.
   Arnold learned of his ensuing deployment in October, and began preparing for his departure almost immediately. He began celebrating the holidays early with his wife, Mun, and two daughters, Cheyenne and Hanna, just in case he was shipped out before they arrived. The Arnolds enjoyed an early Thanksgiving and Christmas in October. However, Arnold was not shipped out until after both Holidays. He left his family Dec. 28 after spending a quiet Christmas with his family in their home at McChord Air Force Base.
   Heatherly, Arnold's mother, said even though her son was preparing to go overseas during the holidays, her family still enjoyed the season together. "I had a house full," Heatherly said. "All of them were here except for Mike's family, and my granddaughter that is in Japan in the Air Force."
   Heatherly shares her son's patriotic enthusiasm, and although it was hard for her to see him head toward danger, she is confident he is doing what needs to be done for the nation. The widowed mother of six has learned to walk through difficult times by looking ahead.
   "I have too many rivers, and burned bridges behind me to look back. You face tomorrow, one step at a time. You don't worry or fret about yesterday."
   Arnold's family is acutely aware of the fact that he is stationed in a region of the world that is riddled with violence and danger for American soldiers. Heatherly noted that her son will be at a hot spot for terrorists. "At least when he was in South Korea I felt like he was surrounded by some friends," Heatherly said. "I feel like now he has been set down right in the middle of the enemy."
   Heatherly does not like the fact that her son has to be separated from his wife and daughters, but looks at his ability to serve the nation as an honor. "I thank God that he has given me a big family. There are so many people that don't have boys that could go and fight for America," Heatherly said.
   Before leaving for the Middle East, Arnold told his mother to ask people to pray for he and his commrads while they are away from home. "He said for people to please pray for them. That they are going over there and are going to do the best job that they can do for our country," Heatherly said.