Support our mission

WüRZBURG, Germany — Despite a battered runway in Iraq that delayed a day’s worth of homecoming flights, 1,950 more 1st Infantry Division soldiers have flown home to Germany since late last week.

Damage to an airfield runway at Forward Operating Base Speicher, the former Iraqi air base in Tikrit, prompted officials to move three Friday flights to Balad Air Base, said Lt. Col. Keith Sledd, the division’s logistics officer.

Most 1st ID soldiers have been flying out of Speicher. The shift meant that CH-47 Chinook helicopters had to ferry about 300 troops to Balad, delaying their returns for up to 24 hours. Sledd said the Air Force made extra C-17 cargo aircraft available so the division wouldn’t fall far behind in flying troops back to Germany.

“We were back on schedule by Saturday,” Sledd said.

Since Saturday, the largest group of soldiers have come from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 106th Finance Battalion in Schweinfurt; and from the 121st Signal Battalion and the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, out of Kitzingen.

The former Al Sahra air base in Tikrit has two runways: a sturdy 10,000-foot strip made of concrete, and a softer 7,300-foot asphalt one. Sledd said the United States bombed the longer runway during first Gulf War, damage that is just now being repaired.

The shorter runway has been used for almost a year by smaller C-23 and C-130 transport and cargo aircraft. In January, the Air Force also certified it for use by heavier C-17s. That meant the Big Red One could send its troops directly home from Iraq.

“That has really helped us out,” said Capt. William Coppernoll, a 1st ID spokesman. “It’s allowed us to bypass going down to Kuwait.”

Sledd said workers conducting a routine inspection after a C-17 departure Thursday night discovered small potholes — he called them “scuff marks” — in the asphalt runway. Unable to determine the full extent of the damage at night, he ordered the next day’s flights diverted to Balad.

Engineers inspected the damage the next day and were able to make short-term repairs within a few hours, allowing flights to resume. Meanwhile, Sledd said, repairs to the long runway and its adjacent taxiway are expected to be complete within days. When it is ready, the Army plans to close the shorter strip and resurface it.

He said the last 1st ID flights are expected to leave Tikrit by the end of this week. Then the focus will shift to Balad, a more convenient departure point for 3rd Brigade Combat Team troops in the eastern half of the division’s sector, which stretches from west of Tikrit east to the Iranian border.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up