As the first wave of B-1B and B-52 bombers landed last week in Guam, a small island within striking distance of North Korea, Andersen Air Base stepped up its familiar role: support.

“If you’re talking about any deployment, that’s what we do every day,” said Maj. John Beck, director of operations for the 36th Operations Support Squadron.

“Shortly after Sept. 11, we ended up with 80-odd aircraft on the ramp, and the base population doubled within a few days,” Beck said.

A repeat could be in order, but exact numbers of aircraft and personnel are hard to pin down.

A multitude of B-1B and B-52 bombers were on the runway Thursday, said 2nd Lt. Thomas Wenz, 7th Air Expeditionary Wing spokesman at Andersen Air Force Base, but he declined to give specifics.

“There are more inbound,” Wenz said.

The B-1s are deploying from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, while the B-52s are assigned to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Wenz said.

“There’s no end state. We can’t speculate on how long they’ll remain here,” he said.

The 7th Air Expeditionary Wing is a forward-deployed wing at Andersen. The 7th Bomb Wing from Dyess is providing the wing leadership, Wenz said.

CBS News first reported last month that Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific commander, asked the Defense Department to send a dozen bombers amid escalating tensions with North Korea.

No aircraft are permanently assigned to Andersen. The 36th Maintenance Squadron is a support wing.

But Andersen has plenty of room for the mammoth bombers. It has two runways, each about two miles long, Beck said.

“It’s the kind of thing we’re always prepared for, and, if you will, it’s our mission to support anybody that would come through here as directed by the president,” he said. “We have plenty of parking space.”

During the Vietnam War, there were “more than 150 B-52s out there at one time,” Beck said.

The bombers, like other aircraft units, bring their own maintenance crew. But Andersen’s 36th Maintenance Squadron provides the ground support equipment for aircraft upkeep, such as sheet metal and portable air conditioners, said Maj. Pete Markle, squadron commander.

Andersen also is capable of storing munitions for many of the units that deploy there.

The bombers come after two nuclear-powered submarines, the USS City of Corpus Christi and the USS San Francisco, moved their home ports to Guam late last year. A third submarine is expected to arrive by the end of 2003 or early 2004.

Also making stops in Guam is the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which continues to maintain a presence in the region within striking distance of North Korea.

The carrier was ordered to the western Pacific last month to replace the USS Kitty Hawk. Kitty Hawk, America’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, is deployed to the Gulf region.

The Bremerton, Wash.-based Vinson moored at Guam for a few days last month, departing March 1. Navy officials would not disclose where the Vinson is headed next, only that it will continue its deployment in the western Pacific.

Military officials from the Pacific to the Pentagon this week played down the movement of the aircraft to Guam as a preventive measure.

Lt. Cmdr. Jensin W. Sommer, spokeswoman for Pacific Command, said the deployments are not “aggressive” and merely bolster the U.S. defense posture by being a deterrent.

Maj. Gwyn Poock, chief of media at Pacific Air Forces, said the deployment is to ensure U.S. forces are prepared.

And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who reportedly signed the bombers’ deployment order last weekend, prior to four North Korean MIG fighters intercepting an unarmed U.S. surveillance plane March 2, said Wednesday the move would ensure the United States maintains the proper “defense capabilities” in the region should North Korea decide to use the situation with Iraq to its advantage.

“There’s certainly nothing in any way that’s aggressive or threatening or hostile to anything the United States has done,” Rumsfeld said during Wednesday’s press briefing, according to a DOD transcript.

Some security experts are worried how North Korea might respond to this latest round of apparent strong-arm posturing by the United States.

“I would be gravely concerned about it having a perverse effect,” said John Steinbrunner, professor and director of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs.

North Korea has shown that “it will respond to threat with threat,” he said.

The deployment of bombers to Guam is “an implicit threat,” Streinbrunner said. “There’s no question about it.”

Steinbrunner thinks it’s unlikely that North Korea would initiate an attack on U.S. forces in Japan, since “that would be suicide on their part.” Nevertheless, “this is a situation that could readily get out of hand,” he said.

Balbina Hwang, a Northeast Asia policy analyst for the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, said that while the bombers’ deployment is “meant to send a very strong signal to North Korea, I just don’t think it’s anything that means a crisis.”

“It’s all part of the mutual defense treaty the United States has with Japan and South Korea,” she added. The United States’ duty is “to help protect not only U.S. interests, but the lives and property of South Koreans and the Japanese,” she said.

By continuing to escalate tensions with the United States, Hwang thinks North Korea is “sowing the seeds of its own destruction. There’s no way that North Korea is going to come out the winner here,” she said.

The deployment of the bombers to Guam puts the North Korean capital of Pyongyang — 2,180 miles from the Pacific island — within easy striking range: the B-52 has a range of more than 8,000 miles and can travel up to 650 mph, while the B-1’s range is listed as intercontinental with a maximum speed of 900-plus mph, according to the Air Force’s Web site.

It’s not clear how many additional troops Andersen will need to support the arrival of the bombers.

Sommer said additional forces are being deployed to the western Pacific, but she could not specify what units or numbers of troops.

“There have been a sufficient number of people deployed to Andersen … in order to maintain the aircraft and operate them at a sufficient level,” Wenz said.

— Jeremy Kirk contributed to this story.

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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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