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Yokota Air Base will send 120 airmen on Saturday to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, base officials announced Thursday.

The deployment, expected to last about 90 days, is part of a scheduled rotation under the Air Force’s Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle.

In all, about 300 men and women are expected to serve under AEF 9 and 10, the biggest deployment from Yokota in recent memory, said Col. Mark Correll, the 374th Mission Support Group commander. Some airmen already have deployed; more will do so through mid-June, he said.

Base officials said Yokota’s airmen will serve in several different locations, declining to name the countries.

The deployment includes the following groups, squadrons or agencies: communications, mission support, wing staff, medical, logistic readiness, maintenance, aircraft maintenance, operational support, air postal, comptroller, weather, contracting and services. Contributing especially heavily to the deployment, officials said, are the civil engineer and services squadrons.

“I’ve been here two years, and this is the biggest number I’ve had,” Correll said, noting recent past AEF deployments have numbered in the low 200s. “I presume there’s a need in Southwest Asia, and we’re going to fill it,” he said.

The airmen will serve in support roles, Correll said: They won’t fly airplanes but will be near the front lines — “if there are lines in this war.”

Correll said he doesn’t anticipate having to reduce services during the AEF rotation but may have to hire civilians temporarily to keep the Samurai Cafe open. Several food service operators will be deployed, he said. “At the moment, I don’t plan to curtail hours, but it’s not out of the question. I’m going to see how we can handle the deployment,” he said.

Airmen will depart Saturday on an L-1011 aircraft from Yokota, stopping at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to pick up about 20 to 30 more troops who also are deploying, before flying directly to an airlift hub in Southwest Asia, Correll said.

AEF deployments from Yokota typically start with a commercial flight to the eastern United States, where airmen catch a Patriot Express to Europe, then on to their final destination. But the Defense Department is scaling back Patriot Express service and fewer flights are available from East Coast hubs such as Baltimore and Atlanta, Correll said.

The Air Mobility Command and Pacific Air Forces approved Yokota’s request to charter Saturday’s flight, the commander said. “It means we’ll have a 12- to 14-hour flight instead of about 40 hours. From a readiness standpoint, that’s what we really like about this. Sure they’re going to be tired, but they’re not going to be 40-hours tired.”

The airmen will be moved to their final destinations once they arrive in theater.

Correll said he did not know whether chartering a flight to send airmen en masse costs the military less than the commercial-Patriot Express route.

“All eyes are on this one to see if works out well,” the colonel said. “Will it get there faster … without breaking down?”

He said he hopes the troops can return the same way so Yokota can give them a big “welcome home, direct from war.”

The 374th Services Division is offering special coupons for family members of deployed airmen. The “sunshine coupon book,” available through first sergeants, offers discounts on everything from bowling to movies.

Family of deployed servicemembers also may eat at the Samurai Cafe, normally open only to unaccompanied airmen, during select times: Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, for brunch, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. They need to show their coupon book.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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