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Staff Sgt. Steven Lopez of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from RAF Mildenhall, Germany, prepares a KC-135 to be pushed into place Friday at a deployed location in the Mediterranean.

Staff Sgt. Steven Lopez of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from RAF Mildenhall, Germany, prepares a KC-135 to be pushed into place Friday at a deployed location in the Mediterranean. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Steven Lopez of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from RAF Mildenhall, Germany, prepares a KC-135 to be pushed into place Friday at a deployed location in the Mediterranean.

Staff Sgt. Steven Lopez of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from RAF Mildenhall, Germany, prepares a KC-135 to be pushed into place Friday at a deployed location in the Mediterranean. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

Maintainers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, prepare to move a KC-135 into place at a deployed location in the Mediterranean region.

Maintainers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, prepare to move a KC-135 into place at a deployed location in the Mediterranean region. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

AN AIR BASE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION — The Air Force’s only air refueling wing stationed in Europe has joined the military buildup that could wage war with Iraq.

The 100th Air Refueling Wing has sent several KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and more than 200 people to a base in the Mediterranean region. Because of internal political sensitivities in the host country, the specific location cannot currently be named.

“We’ve deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the continuing war on terror,” said Col. Mike Crane, the vice wing commander who is now the commander of the 100th Expeditionary Operations Group.

He said the troops and aircraft will follow “whatever the instructions from our commanders and the president happen to be.”

They have joined the 401st Air Expeditionary Wing made up of Air Force personnel from across the globe. Col. Terry New, the 401st AEW commander, said the wing will eventually include more than 1,000 people, but now has about half that number.

“Within the next two weeks, we will be up to full strength,” said New, who is normally the 16th Air Expeditionary Wing commander at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “We are building a tanker wing here.”

Crane said additional aircraft will soon arrive, but will probably not be from the 100th ARW, which traces its heritage back to the 100th Bomb Group, known as the Bloody 100th for its success at tough bombing missions during World War II.

Crane said the deployment went “fairly smoothly.”

“We didn’t deploy assets here all at once,” he said. “It was a measured deployment.”

He said the package that came was specifically tailored for the location. Some people from the wing came months ago to look the place over.

Since arriving, the aircraft have been providing in-flight refueling for Navy aircraft flying from a carrier group in the Mediterranean. The personnel are on orders for 179 days.

The base is no hard-scrabble location. It has buildings and a support structure that makes day-to-day living fairly comfortable. Dining facilities already exist on the base, and the Americans are welcome to use them.

Despite that, there have been questions to answer, everything from where to get toilet paper to whether the aircraft could taxi on the runway.

“We’re working through all those things,” Crane said.

New said the effort to put together the 401st began last autumn and the location was already chosen. Despite the disparate locations from which the members come, New said it is not hard to get everyone working together.

“The Air Force has gotten into an expeditionary mind-set,” he said. “Most of the people, except the very young people, have been on a deployment or two or three or four. They’ve done this before.”

Plus, he said, people want to participate in an important effort.

“Everybody wants to be a part of it,” he said. “Everybody wants to go out and serve and be a part of what we’re doing.”

On that issue, Crane said, “I can only give you my personal view.

“People join the military and we train and we train and we train — it’s a paradox — for a mission we hope we don’t have to do.”

But, he said, there is satisfaction in being called up when that mission has to be performed.

Senior Airman Dustin Clark, a boom operator, had a similar feeling. “Sometimes it feels pretty good. Sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.

It’s good to be a part of something important, he explained, but he hopes the world can somehow avert a war.

For some members of the 100th ARW, the deployment is a change of pace.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Staff Sgt. James Rice of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It’s a break from the norm, that’s for sure.”

Senior Airman Demetrius Alexander, a resource management specialist, is on his first deployment.

“I look at it that I’m up for all challenges while I’m in this uniform,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Tucker, a finance specialist, was given only 90 minutes to prepare for his deployment.

“I was tasked for another deployment, so I had my stuff more or less ready,” he said. “I’m just glad to do something different.”

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