U.S. airmen happy to have helped victims of Sudan crisis

Lt. Col. Ben McMullen, standing left, and Master Sgt. Rob Sestan, standing right, of the 86th Air Mobility Squadron, supervise as airmen do push-ups while killing time Thursday morning at an air base in the Middle East. The airmen were returning from Rwanda, where they’d transported about 290 troops African troops and their gear into the troubled Darfur region of Sudan.


By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 13, 2004

It’s always good to return home from a mission.

“I’m happy, I’m excited,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bruder. “I can’t wait to see my dog and my girlfriend … in that order.”

Bruder, of Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, and loadmaster with the 86th Air Mobility Squadron, was one of the last group of U.S. airmen to return from Africa after helping shuttle African Union soldiers into the troubled Darfur region of Sudan.

The approximately 20 airmen stopped Wednesday night at a Middle East air base on their way back to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and RAF Mildenhall in England. They’d been a part of 101 troops who had airlifted Rwandan and Nigerian soldiers and their supplies into Darfur.

The African Union troops are trying to make the area safe for humanitarian workers to tend to the estimated 1.5 million Sudanese people displaced by rampaging militia.

“I like going on the road,” Bruder said. “It’s better than those training exercises when you’re not really doing something.”

They must have done something.

As Bruder spoke inside the passenger terminal early Thursday morning, a news flash came across the TV that stated the Sudanese government and rebels had just reached a deal to allow aid workers access to the refugees who were caught in the middle.

The airmen were from Ramstein and Sembach air bases in Germany and RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath in England, as well as from reserve units in the States.

Together they formed the 322nd Air Expeditionary Group of Kigali, Rwanda, and Abuja, Nigeria, commanded by Col. Bob Baine of the 3rd Air Force, Mildenhall.

The mission began on Oct. 20. Over two weeks, the U.S. group, using C-130 cargo planes, transported 50 Nigerian soldiers, 240 Rwanda soldiers and 60,000 pounds of cargo north to the airstrip at El-Fashir, Sudan.

Baine said the U.S. troops never set foot in Sudan.

“They [African Union troops] just needed a way to get their quickly and efficiently,” he said.

First Lt. Robert Magee of Sarasota, Fla., and the 3rd Air Force, said he doubted any of his high school classmates back home had done anything as exciting as he’d experienced in the past few weeks.

“I got to help prevent further genocide in Sudan,” Magee said. “How? By moving troops.”

When asked if he thought it was a good way for U.S. assets to be used, he replied, “If it’s something you can read about in the next day’s paper and feel good about it, then that’s good.”

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