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Lt. Col. Keith McBride, 81st Fighter Squadron commander, says goodbye to his wife, Julie, and their children, ages 5 and 6, before boarding transportation to the flight line where he will fly an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Afghanistan on a four-month deployment.

Lt. Col. Keith McBride, 81st Fighter Squadron commander, says goodbye to his wife, Julie, and their children, ages 5 and 6, before boarding transportation to the flight line where he will fly an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Afghanistan on a four-month deployment. (Jennifer Lindsey / U.S. Air Force)

Lt. Col. Keith McBride, 81st Fighter Squadron commander, says goodbye to his wife, Julie, and their children, ages 5 and 6, before boarding transportation to the flight line where he will fly an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Afghanistan on a four-month deployment.

Lt. Col. Keith McBride, 81st Fighter Squadron commander, says goodbye to his wife, Julie, and their children, ages 5 and 6, before boarding transportation to the flight line where he will fly an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Afghanistan on a four-month deployment. (Jennifer Lindsey / U.S. Air Force)

Spangdahlem Air Base’s 81st Fighter Squadron family members and friends watch from the base weather observation deck Wednesday as squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots take off for Afghanistan.

Spangdahlem Air Base’s 81st Fighter Squadron family members and friends watch from the base weather observation deck Wednesday as squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots take off for Afghanistan. (Iris Reiff / U.S. Air Force)

Air Force Maj. Kevin Beeker, 81st Fighter Squadron pilot, and the family of Capt. Kevin Boblet watch as the captain takes off in an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany on Wednesday and heads for Afghanistan.

Air Force Maj. Kevin Beeker, 81st Fighter Squadron pilot, and the family of Capt. Kevin Boblet watch as the captain takes off in an 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany on Wednesday and heads for Afghanistan. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — As the A-10 Thunderbolts rolled down the runway for takeoff, a small group of wives and children atop the air traffic control tower’s observation deck gave one last wave goodbye.

A few wiped away tears.

The Spangdahlem-based 81st Fighter Squadron left Wednesday for a four-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Pilots with families said before they left that they had mixed feelings about going on the deployment. While they are excited about getting a chance to provide close-air support for troops on the ground, leaving their wives and children for months is difficult.

“Of course, I’m sad to leave my family,” said Lt. Col. Keith McBride, the commander of the squadron. “But I’m ready to go do this. We’ve been training for this for a year. … We’ve been totally focused on this for the last 10 months, specifically.”

The pilots’ emotional farewell is just one of many planned at the base over the next several weeks.

About 900 airmen from the 52nd Fighter Wing — almost one-fifth of the base’s active-duty population — will deploy as part of a regular rotation. Spangdahlem Air Base is home to about 5,000 servicemembers and about 10,000 Americans.

About 110 airmen from the 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit will join the pilots later this week. Airmen from various other departments and units on base also will be deploying throughout the month on transport planes.

McBride’s wife, Julie, said she is accustomed to her husband being gone. But this is the first deployment for their children, who are ages 5 and 6. Their son is having a difficult time coping with the fact that his father will be so far away. Both children have asked their parents questions like “What is daddy going to do?” and “Is daddy going to die?”

Julie McBride said the most important thing is to “just try and be honest but positive” with her children.

“I think once his Dad’s gone he’ll probably be better,” she said of her son.

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