About 300 Pacific troops heading for Middle East
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The next Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation is almost under way for about 300 airmen from across the Pacific theater.
Misawa’s passenger terminal Wednesday morning was a sea of desert camouflage, as troops from Misawa, Yokota and Kadena air bases, as well as Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, waited their turn to support ongoing operations in Iraq, Kuwait and Southwest Asia locations.
But they’ll have to wait at least one more day: The L-1011 commercial jet scheduled to depart Wednesday was grounded due to an equipment failure, base officials said.
“They’re hopeful they’ll get off the ground tomorrow,” base spokesman Capt. James Lage said late Wednesday afternoon.
The troops, nevertheless, are some of the first Pacific Air Forces airmen to deploy for the next 120-day, September-January AEF cycle. Military officials have said PACAF was tapped for about 1,400 airmen this go-round.
Misawa is packing up just over 100 airmen, mostly from civil engineering and logistics readiness; Elmendorf added another 100, with Yokota and Kadena rounding out the rest.
Officials said four to five PACAF groups were due to depart from Misawa later this month for the region on a chartered flight. In the past, airmen would leave in small, scattered groups, relying on a combination of military and commercial aircraft as they hopped across the U.S. and Europe.
“This time, they’re stopping in Singapore to refuel and then on to the” area of responsibility, or AOR, said Maj. Matt Cornell, Misawa’s 35th Mission Support Squadron commander.
Wednesday marked the first time the base used the passenger terminal to outprocess and deploy for an AEF — and will continue to do so in the future since it’s more comfortable than a hangar, Cornell said.
Before the jet broke, 35th Services Squadron provided a breakfast spread, while the Army and Air Force Exchange Service handed out goodie bags with deployment essentials such as shaving cream and beef jerky.
Misawa’s new 35th Fighter Wing commander, Brig. Gen. (select) Sam Angelella, along with Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Missel, even paid a visit.
“I’m proud of you for signing up with all this stuff going on,” he told Airman Christopher Dunn, a civil engineering plumber who enlisted about a year ago. “It won’t be easy; it will be tough, but it will be well worth it.”
Misawa airmen began outprocessing at the crack of dawn Wednesday. Some listened to music, others dozed; a few whittled the time playing cards. Their emotions were mixed, from fired-up enthusiasm to trepidation about the unknown.
Brittnie Alvarez and Alia Dumas, airmen first class from 18th Security Forces Squadron at Kadena, were embarking on their first deployment — to Kuwait for six months.
“You’re happy, then again you’re scared, you’re nervous, you don’t know what to expect,” said Alvarez, who recently turned 20.
For Dumas, 23 and a single parent, leaving behind 16-month-old Jayden with relatives in the States was gut-wrenching.
“I try to keep busy, keep my mind off of it,” she said.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Darnell, 35th Fighter Wing weapons safety manager, knows he’ll be in Iraq until February inspecting weapons — and he can’t wait.
“It’s me doing my job and not training and not doing exercises,” he said. “It’s helping my country and making a better Iraq. It’s real-world: You don’t get to do that too often.”