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SPANGDAHLEM, Germany — Sunday morning dawned cold enough to freeze tears.

But that didn’t halt the sad farewells as airmen from Spangdahlem’s 52nd Fighter Wing said goodbye to family and friends.

The 210 airmen loaded up at 6:16 a.m. and headed for the Persian Gulf region, said Col. Stephen P. Mueller, the wing’s commander. More than 500 airmen from the wing recently were tapped for Gulf duty.

The wing already had about 100 airmen stationed in various locations around the region — the Arabian Peninsula, central Asia and parts of Africa — before this deployment, Mueller said.

The airmen and about half the F-16CJ aircraft from one of the base’s three fighter squadrons are leaving to support ongoing Enduring Freedom operations and to position the unit in preparation for possible action if ordered by national leaders, wing officials said.

“We’re providing power to the commanders [in the Gulf region] if they need it,” Mueller said.

Wing officials could not disclose the airmen’s final destination or how long the deployment would last because the information is classified.

“Our people are ready for this,” said Capt. Phil Dorsch, the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit troop commander. Airmen from the squadron comprised the bulk of the people deploying Sunday.

“The amount of training and preparation we’ve put into this [deployment] is mind-blowing,” Dorsch added. “We are tasked to provide safe, reliable combat-ready aircraft, and that’s what we’ll do.”

The deploying unit maintains and flies F-16CJ Wild Weasels. The aircraft usually carry two radar-busting HARM missiles capable of destroying enemy air-defense systems, radar and missile sites.

The aircraft also are armed with two global positioning system-guided missiles and have a 500-round 20 mm multibarrel cannon.

Sunday morning began early for the airmen as families began dropping them off at 1:30 a.m. in front of the Spangdahlem base theater.

“I’m not ready for him to go,” Charmane Winston said of her husband, Staff Sgt. Jerome Winston, a 52nd maintenance squadron avionics specialist.

The couple has endured eight deployments in 10 years of marriage.

“You would think I’d get used to him being gone,” she said. “But each time it gets harder.”

Not everyone was sad to leave.

“Hey, I’m looking forward to the vacation,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Giles, a 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crewmember.

“We’ve been working real hard around here,” added Giles, who has experienced three deployments already in his three-year Air Force career.

“This is a busy base,” Mueller acknowledged. “We’ve been engaged, and when we deploy our airmen, we give them 100 percent of what they require.”

But duty down in the sand will not be fun and games, said Staff Sgt. Glen Presswood, a wing F-16 quality inspector and veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“My advice for troops is to take it serious,” he said.

“I’m not looking forward to going back. I believe Saddam has nothing to lose, so he could do anything.”

The wing chaplain, Col. Carl Andrews, said a prayer for the airmen, and then Mueller addressed his troops.

“We’ve been going down there for 10 to 12 years now,” Mueller said, referring to the Gulf War and operations Northern and Southern Watch that enforce the no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq.

“We have a chance to end that. We have a chance to make the world better.”

The morning had its light moments. When Staff Sgt. Lucy Richardson, a 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron traffic manager, called names to make sure everyone showed up for the flight, she called for an airman Flucker, actually pronounced “Flooker.” The crowd went wild.

“I can’t believe I called that guy a Flucker,” said an embarrassed Richardson as she stepped off the stage.

The airmen became serious as they boarded their plane. “We’re going to show people what we’re worth,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Tenny, a maintenance unit crew chief. “We know what we’re doing — now we’re going to go down and do it.”

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