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Pacific edition, Thursday, May 17, 2007

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The handoff has begun.

In the last of his regularly recorded phone messages from Iraq, 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Chuck Toplikar notes that a few new Misawa personnel already are beginning to trickle in to support the next Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation — AEF 7/8.

“Although we have a little more time to go before we leave here, this week starts the end of AEF 5/6,” Toplikar said. “Everyone will be very busy over the next couple of weeks working transition, handoff and redeployment issues.”

The 13th Fighter Squadron will replace the 14th in Iraq for the June-to-September AEF.

Toplikar broke down the 14th’s contribution to the fight in numbers.

“When we leave here, we will have flown nearly 1,440 combat sorties and over 6,000 hours,” he said.

The squadron’s F-16 Fighting Falcons dropped more than 22 Guided Bomb Unit-12s — a 500-pound laser-guided bomb — and 11 other Guided Bomb Units, he said, adding that the aircraft also shot more than 850 rounds of 20 mm bullets.

“As importantly, we will have supported the ground forces in many ‘non-kinetic’ ways,” he said. “And yes, we will have survived over 150 rocket and mortar attacks,” he added, presumably in reference to Balad Air Base, where the squadron and other Misawa personnel were assigned during their four-month deployment.

Toplikar also mentioned ongoing efforts to improve the squadron’s living quarters at Balad, noting “this past week the new dual-sex bathroom facility was installed.”

It’s uncertain when exactly the squadron will return to Misawa, but once home, personnel are owed 14 days off for “reconstitution,” Toplikar said.

Three additional days are set aside for inprocessing, but Toplikar said “we are organizing an itinerary to accomplish as much of the inprocessing and reintegration requirements as possible in the squadron on a single day.”

Call DSN (315) 226-1400 to listen to Toplikar’s recorded message.

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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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