Airmen prepare to leave Bashur airfield
April 23, 2003
BASHUR AIRFIELD, Iraq — While operations remain open at Bashur airfield, airmen deployed there are packing up their equipment and supplies and heading out.
No official word has come down through Air Force and military channels, but more than 200 airmen who deployed to Bashur late last month have left or are preparing to leave.
Scores moved overland in the last few days to an airfield in Kirkuk farther south. Others are starting to prep their duffle bags and footlockers for a return flight to Europe.
“We’ve moved a lot of troops out to the southwest,” said Col. Steve Weart, commander of the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group.
Weart said the movement is part of an “ongoing effort to stand up additional airports.”
Air operations at Bashur have dropped off since April 11, the busiest day of the deployment when 21 planes landed, said Maj. Konrad Klausner, the director of operations for the rapid-deployment unit.
Instead of a dozen or more planes at night, the flow is now less than half that number.
Overall, the unit has handled more than 370 cargo flights and 23 million pounds of cargo and 4,300 passengers since it began operations at the airfield on March 27.
Military officials have decided to shift the cargo airlift mission from Bashur to Kirkuk.
Bashur’s airstrip is quickly deteriorating on the west end, where heavy cargo planes touch down. Kirkuk is where the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, and other Army units deployed after arriving at Bashur.
As the number of missions dwindles at Bashur, anticipation over what lies around the bend has intensified. Some Air Force security personnel have left for Kirkuk. Others, including security and airfield personnel, remain behind.
But many of the latter expect to be back in Europe sometime next week.
Weart was quick to point out that airfield operations are continuing, despite the taking down of tents and the packing of crates and other containers.
“We are in the process of packing that stuff up,” Weart said of the excess material.
But, he emphasized, there are yet “no orders to redeploy this unit for a new mission” or to send its personnel home to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where most of them are based.