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Airman 1st Class David Dracouless, 20, an electrical environmental technician with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, was near the front of a line of about 100 Misawa airmen who were getting ready to deploy to Iraq Wednesday morning from the base passenger terminal.

Airman 1st Class David Dracouless, 20, an electrical environmental technician with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, was near the front of a line of about 100 Misawa airmen who were getting ready to deploy to Iraq Wednesday morning from the base passenger terminal. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airman 1st Class David Dracouless, 20, an electrical environmental technician with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, was near the front of a line of about 100 Misawa airmen who were getting ready to deploy to Iraq Wednesday morning from the base passenger terminal.

Airman 1st Class David Dracouless, 20, an electrical environmental technician with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, was near the front of a line of about 100 Misawa airmen who were getting ready to deploy to Iraq Wednesday morning from the base passenger terminal. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Tech. Sgt. Crystal Deann Burnett, 34, an avionics technician with the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, clutches her stuffed bear, Solace, while waiting in the deployment out-processing line Wednesday morning at Misawa Air Base, Japan. “Solace goes to war,” Burnett said, as she got her photo taken.

Tech. Sgt. Crystal Deann Burnett, 34, an avionics technician with the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, clutches her stuffed bear, Solace, while waiting in the deployment out-processing line Wednesday morning at Misawa Air Base, Japan. “Solace goes to war,” Burnett said, as she got her photo taken. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Jason Peters, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Misawa Air Base allergy and immunization clinic, gives a last-minute shot to Tech. Sgt. Charles Cox Jr. Wednesday morning at the base passenger terminal. Cox was among about 100 Misawa airmen who departed Wednesday for a 4-month deployment to Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Jason Peters, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Misawa Air Base allergy and immunization clinic, gives a last-minute shot to Tech. Sgt. Charles Cox Jr. Wednesday morning at the base passenger terminal. Cox was among about 100 Misawa airmen who departed Wednesday for a 4-month deployment to Iraq. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — “We’re going to war, isn’t that crazy?” Senior Airman Ryan Deraas, 20, asked a friend.

It was 4 in the morning Wednesday, and Deraas was standing in a line stacked about 100 deep. Dressed in desert fatigues, their bags packed, the Misawa airmen processing through the base’s passenger terminal indeed were war-bound.

As airmen joked and chatted with each other or stood quietly by themselves, emotions generally fell into two categories: Excited and nervous.

Some, like Deraas, were looking forward to the opportunity to use their skills in a combat environment.

“I can’t wait,” said the airman from Bismarck, N.D., a munitions specialist who assembles bombs and other ammunition for the F-16. “I’d like to witness it firsthand instead of always seeing it on TV. I feel it’s my part, my time to go, you know.”

But others, such as Airman Brandon Cunningham, couldn’t shake the jitters of a first-time deployment to a war zone that churns out casualties by the day.

“I’m a little nervous, but other than that, I’m good,” said the 22-year-old from Columbia, S.C., who said he tried to watch the news “a whole lot less” in the days and weeks leading up to the deployment.

After having their chartered flight delayed several days, the airmen finally were destined for an undisclosed base in Iraq.

For four months, they’ll support Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron, which has been charged with providing cover to ground troops.

It will be the first time since the start of the war that F-16 “Block 50s” have flown out of a base in Iraq, military officials have said.

More than 400 Misawa airmen have been tagged for the current deployment.

The 14th Fighter Squadron’s F-16s along with another large contingent of airmen left Tuesday, while a smaller group of maintainers left Monday.

Many airmen are deploying for the first time, said Tech. Sgt. Crystal Deann Burnett, 34, an avionics technician with the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and they don’t know what to expect.

“Some are actually scared, the thought of getting shot at,” said Tech. Sgt. Charles Cox Jr., 41, of the 35th Maintenance Squadron.

His advice to the first-timers: “Just stay alert. Don’t get complacent. Keep your head on a swivel. If it doesn’t seem like a good idea, it’s not a good idea.”

It’s a first deployment for Staff Sgt. Dennis Williams, 24, who also loads bombs and missiles on the F-16. But he’s ready, he said while leaving last week with a small advance team of airmen.

“It’s about time I get to see some action,” he said. “That’s what they train us for. I probably won’t see anything one-on-one, but I’m pretty sure we’ll load some things that they’ll drop.”

author picture
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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