YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The North Korean nuclear crisis seemed to slip from the international media’s attention when the first bombs rained down on Baghdad, but the U.S. military still keeps a close eye on the region.

As the United States geared up for the war in Iraq, some analysts and regional experts predicted North Korea might take advantage of the situation with military provocations.

In response, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld moved U.S. long-range bombers to Guam and directed the USS Carl Vinson into the region to cover for the USS Kitty Hawk, which was sent to the Gulf.

After ordering the bombers to Guam, The Associated Press quoted Rumsfeld as saying he wanted to make sure that U.S. forces were properly arrayed “where someone might think of taking advantage of that situation with respect to Iraq.”

The 7th Air Expeditionary Wing stood up at Andersen in early March to support the B-1B Lancer and B-52H Stratofortress bombers, which can be refueled in the air and fly thousands of miles to deliver long-range cruise missiles and satellite-guided bombs. Troops from 11 bases were moved to Andersen to work with the 7th AEW.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Thomas Wenz, 7th AEW spokesman, said contributing Pacific bases are: Yokota and Misawa air bases in Japan; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force bases, Alaska, and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The bombers are from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; and Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., also have troops on the island.

Col. Jonathan George, 7th AEW commander, characterized the bombers’ presence as “stabilizing,” not an act of aggression.

Andersen, meanwhile, appears to be spilling over with mostly young airmen who pack the chow hall for meals and have made razors and soap hot commodities at the base exchange.

Since troops began arriving, the exchange has seen about a 27 percent spike in sales, mostly from airmen buying toiletries, such as shaving cream and toothpaste, and greeting cards, batteries for CD players and hangers, store managers said last week.

“We’re out of hangars again — 99 cents for a dozen,” said operations manager Gerald Willams.

Army and Air Force Exchange Service headquarters in Dallas has instructed AAFES stores to display “essential deployment items” in high traffic areas near checkout aisles. On the list: beef jerky, Arabic language books, playing cards, foot powder, bottle openers and Band-Aids, among other sundries.

Joanne Borja, the BX’s acting general manager at Andersen, said store officials have been told in meetings to expect about 2,000 additional troops at Andersen for the next six to eight months.

But Wenz, the 7th AEW spokesman, said “that number is completely inaccurate” and “pure speculation on their part. The length of time is also speculation with regards to any deployed forces here because there’s no defined end date.”

Wenz said he could not discuss specific deployed troop numbers.

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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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