RAF LAKENHEATH, England — More than 1,000 airmen from the 48th Fighter Wing have begun deploying to support the ongoing international war on terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th Fighter Squadron are among those who will deploy, said Brig. Gen. Mark T. Matthews, the wing commander.

“January is the heavy month for deploying people out,” Matthews said Thursday. “We started rotating people out in late December.”

The deployed airmen will be stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the Central Command area of responsibility, he said. CENTCOM covers 25 nations from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Gulf region and into Central Asia.

Most of the Lakenheath airmen will be part of the four-month rotation cycle for air expeditionary forces, but some have orders for 179 days, he said.

Airmen who deploy longer are typically in higher demand fields, such as security forces, Air Force officials have said.

Up to 20,000 Air Force members deploy around the globe in each rotation cycle, according to the Air Force Web site.

The 48th’s mission will be the typical Air Force fighter mission — providing air support for the troops on the ground.

Matthews said the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq would probably generate a lot of trouble from insurgents who oppose a democratic government. He said the area would remain “hot” for the time being.

The aircraft could be called upon to support ground offensives or provide an airborne weapon system for ambushed convoys or patrols.

At the same time, the wing is sending aircraft and about 100 people from the 493rd Fighter Squadron to Iceland to maintain an air presence for NATO in the North Atlantic, a mission the Air Force has performed for decades to support the island nation.

That deployment is also a normal four-month rotation.

“It’s a big chunk of our hide,” Matthews said of the departure of so many troops and aircraft. “There will be a noticeable dent in our footprint here.”

The deployments will put a strain on troops who remain behind, Matthews said. They will work longer hours and do more tasks than normal.

However, he said, it is rare that all three squadrons are together at RAF Lakenheath, where about 5,000 active-duty members are stationed.

“It puts a lot of stress on our people here,” he said. “In fact, I worry more about our people here than our people deployed.”

He said the heavy operations tempo facing the Air Force and the rest of the military requires the service learn how to operate garrisons with much of the population deployed.

“I think we’re still learning as an Air Force how to do that,” he said.

Organizations such as the Family Support Center and the 48th Medical Group, as well as commanders and senior enlisted leaders, will be on the watch for indicators of excessive stress, such as increases in driving under the influence of alcohol or domestic abuse, he said.

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