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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — As the Air Force scales back its forward-operating bases, deployments under the Aerospace Expeditionary Force construct should return to normal by March 2004, Pacific Air Forces officials said Monday.

But before then, hundreds of PACAF airmen are gearing up to deploy in November under AEF Silver, the second of two transitional, 120-day cycles designed to return the schedule to a steady-state rotation.

Operation Enduring Freedom and the war in Iraq forced the service into a contingency mode, breaking the 90-day deployment schedule, Air Force officials said.

“If you didn’t deploy, be prepared to do so,” said Tech. Sgt. James Parris, expeditionary combat support manager for AEF-Pacific Branch.

Parris is a member of the PACAF Aerospace Expeditionary Force team that briefed Yokota residents Monday on deployment issues. The team next heads to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, where two mass briefings are planned for 8 a.m. Sept. 25 and 26 in the Enlisted Club.

Parris said the team is trying to underscore the importance of knowing to which Aerospace Expeditionary Force one is assigned.

“You have rights. You need to know when your vulnerable period is and be prepared to deploy, because people, believe it or not, are still being surprised when they get a tasking,” Parris said.

Airmen aren’t allowed to go on leave during their assigned deployment period — even if they aren’t tasked, Parris said. Also, a commander cannot reassign someone to a different deployment cycle without approval from the PACAF vice commander. Airmen should check with a supervisor or unit deployment manager to learn their assigned deployment cycle.

The Air Force is divided into ten Aerospace Expeditionary Forces. Each force is in effect a cross-section of the entire service. Two cycles deploy at a time, able to provide about 145 aircraft and 12,600 combat support personnel.

Under the AEF concept, in peace time most airmen may be ordered to deploy for 90 days in a 15-month cycle, PACAF officials noted.

But the normal rotation was suspended in January during a buildup of forces for the invasion of Iraq. AEF 7 and AEF 8 were frozen until July 15; some airmen in those cycles deployed for more than 200 days, Parris noted. “We literally had some people from every AEF deployed [to] Iraq in some capacity,” Maj. Gen. Timothy A. Peppe, special assistant for Aerospace Expeditionary Force matters at the Pentagon, said in a recent Air Force News article. “We ended up deploying about 50,000 and identified another 60,000 who could have gone.”

AEF Silver will deploy Nov. 15 with about 19,000 airmen, including about 800 from PACAF. Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; Misawa and Yokota air bases in Japan, and Kadena Air Base Okinawa are assigned to this cycle. AEF 7 and 8 will replace that group in March 2004 after an approximate 120-day deployment. Misawa and Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base are among the PACAF bases that may have airmen deploy then.

The goal is to steadily reduce the numbers deployed and return to a 90-day rotation, Parris said. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, about 7,500 airmen deployed per Aerospace Expeditionary Force pair, Parris said. After the attacks, the number surged to about 24,000 personnel. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, about 50,000 Air Force personnel deployed.

The PACAF Aerospace Expeditionary Force team members may be reached by phone at the following numbers: DSN (318) 448-3202, 3205, or 3204.

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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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