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Patty Yeager, right, and two other wives wave goodbye to their husbands as pilots and weapons system officers of the 492nd Fighter Squadron taxi down the runway in F-15 Strike Eagle jets early Wednesday morning for a four-month rotation is support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Patty Yeager, right, and two other wives wave goodbye to their husbands as pilots and weapons system officers of the 492nd Fighter Squadron taxi down the runway in F-15 Strike Eagle jets early Wednesday morning for a four-month rotation is support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Russ Rizzo / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Two groups of F-15 Strike Eagle jets roared to life under a nearly full moon early Wednesday morning and set off into the horizon on their way to the Middle East.

About 10 wives waved frantically from the side of the runway as about two dozen pilots and accompanying weapons officers set off for a four-month rotation in which they will provide close-air support for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group was the last of the 492nd Fighter Squadron to deploy this month. In all, about 700 servicemembers based at RAF Lakenheath, home of the 48th Fighter Wing, are expected to participate in the rotation, according to base spokesmen.

A KC-135R Stratotanker operated by the 351st Refueling Squadron from nearby RAF Mildenhall flew with the jets, said base spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Cindy Dorfner.

Air Force officials did not release the destination of the airmen, citing host-nation sensitivities and security concerns. They also did not release exact numbers of servicemembers who deployed, citing security concerns.

Patty Yeager watched as her husband, Capt. Tom Yeager, taxied to the runway about 5 a.m. and let out a blast of orange and blue flames before disappearing into the dark sky. She said she knew which jet was his by the tail number and the order in which it took off, she said.

The Yeagers got married in July, so this is their first deployment as a married couple, Patty Yeager said. But separation is nothing new to them.

“Our entire relationship has been long-distance,” she said. “It’s nothing new. It’s just never been this long before.”

She said her husband promised to call and write e-mails when he could. In the meantime, she will head back to her hometown of Dover, Del., to be with her parents, she said.

“They’ll be my support system,” she said.

Across the runway, 1st Lt. Will McDougal was feeling a different kind of separation. A weapons system officer with the 492nd Fighter Squadron, McDougal was one of the handful of airmen in the squadron to be left behind, he said.

“When you see your brothers leave, you want to be part of the team,” said McDougal, who was tapped to act as a spokesman for the squadron. “[But] there are only a certain number of slots.”

McDougal said he and others who remained behind will help support the squadron from Lakenheath and take on new responsibilities that come with a deployment, including checking up on spouses of deployed airmen.

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