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On Tuesday at Osan Air Base, troops of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division's Strikeforce brigade board a jetliner for Kuwait and eventual duty in Iraq. Seeing them off is Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the top American commander in South Korea. To LaPorte's right are Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, commander of 8th U.S. Army, and Maj. Gen. John R. Wood, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division.

On Tuesday at Osan Air Base, troops of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division's Strikeforce brigade board a jetliner for Kuwait and eventual duty in Iraq. Seeing them off is Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the top American commander in South Korea. To LaPorte's right are Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, commander of 8th U.S. Army, and Maj. Gen. John R. Wood, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The airlift of an Army combat brigade from South Korea to Kuwait for eventual duty in Iraq was to have finished Wednesday, ending what the U.S. military has said was one of its biggest logistical undertakings on the peninsula since the Korean War.

The final planeload in the airlift of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team — dubbed the “Strikeforce” — was scheduled to depart here Wednesday morning. The Strikeforce numbers some 3,600 troops.

The airlift began Aug. 2 and over about 10 days saw busloads of Strikeforce troops transported from the division’s Camp Casey in Dongduchon to Osan Air Base, where they boarded chartered civilian jetliners.

Osan, South Korea’s biggest air base, normally moves about 4,000 passengers through its terminal each month, said Maj. Mike Oberbroeckling, operations officer with the 731st Air Mobility Squadron here.

But with the airlift, he said, “Our monthly load we did in a week. Our passenger load this month will be double.”

For the Army, the airlift meant more than getting its Strikeforce troops aboard buses and getting them here. The Army sent more than 100 troops here to work hand-in-glove with the Air Force.

Officers and noncoms from both branches consulted moment-to-moment over items including ensuring that the troops and their gear would be within aircraft weight limits, that units were kept together on the right aircraft and that troops were in place on time to meet the planes.

Such coordination was crucial because “there’s too many moving pieces” to an operation of the Strikeforce airlift’s complexity, said Army Lt. Col. Dave Lee, who oversaw the entire logistical effort.

Army and Air Force officials said their respective units soon would review the operation to derive “lessons learned” for the future.

Almost each day of the airlift, the 2nd Infantry Division Band stood in formation plane-side and serenaded the troops as they filed up the boarding stairs in desert tan uniforms, laden with rucksacks, rifles, automatic weapons, unit colors and other equipment. Among the band’s many numbers during the airlift were “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “God Bless America” and the theme from “Rocky.”

The flights were seen off by various senior military brass, most often by the division’s two-star commanding general, Maj. Gen. John R. Wood, and Command Sgt. Maj. James Lucero, the division’s top noncommissioned officer.

Friday, a departing flight was sent off by Air Force Brig. Gen. Maury Forsyth, commander of the 51st Fighter Wing here.

And Monday evening, Wood and other division brass were joined near the stairs by Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea, and Lt. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, 8th U.S. Army commander.

“Good luck,” LaPorte said Monday night. “Good luck to ya,” he told one paratrooper of the 503rd Infantry Regiment. And to a paratrooper whose rank put him in charge of others, LaPorte said, “Take care of your soldiers.”

Wood said he took satisfaction in being able to greet his troops individually. “Certainly you see in their eyes, anticipation, a serious look,” said Wood. “But you also see the spirit of soldiers. … I had an opportunity to look every soldier in the eye and shake his hand and say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing and God bless you.’”


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