HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- The men and women of the 419th Fighter Wing who left here Wednesday for the Middle East knew they were going to a conflict that is overlooked due to the Kosovo fighting -- but one that still poses the threat of mortal danger.
The Air Force Reserve members left on a civilian jet for Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, from which they will patrol the northern no-fly zone over Iraq. Recently allied warplanes flying over Iraq had to return fire when Iraqis shot anti-aircraft artillery at them or locked onto their jets with radar."We're prepared to and expecting to deliver munitions to Iraqi targets this time," said Col. Steven Owens, chief of planning for the 419th. "The term we're using is, 'This is a shooting war.' "
Altogether, 79 men and eight women left Wednesday morning aboard a chartered American Trans Air 757 jet, their equipment accompanying them in a huge Air Force C-5 cargo plane. They were among 145 reservists from the wing who will be serving in the Middle East at any one time.
Most of this group will return around June 18, when other volunteers from the 419th will take their place. All should be home by around July 10.
Eight of their F-16 fighter-bombers, equipped with night-flying gear, took off early Tuesday.
This is the third deployment for many of the men and women, and some were in the region during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. This time, family members were not present, having said their farewells at home.
"Not to worry, that it's business as usual" -- that was the advice Doyle McKinney, a fuel system mechanic from Bountiful, gave his wife and eight children before he left home.
"Nothing new and different," said Maj. Ken Hull, a pilot from Layton who flies for Delta in civilian life. "We've all done this before."
A veteran of the Persian Gulf War, Hull said he is not concerned about the possibility of action. "This is what we've been training to do. . . . So if we have an opportunity to do our jobs, great. If not, that's fine, we're still a presence over there."
His wife, Maj. Lynne Hull, the wing's maintenance officer, is looking forward to returning to the Turkish air base where she lived for two years as a dependent. Meanwhile, the couple's children will be staying with grandparents.
"The job that we're doing is just to make sure the jets are ready to go," she said of the maintenance personnel. In a war zone, the F-16s must be able to perform at their best.
What did they tell their children, a boy and a girl age 4 and 2? "Just that Mommy and Daddy have a job to do. The older one has seen news -- he knows that Daddy's going to drop bombs."
Tech. Sgt. Mike Dufresne, Clearfield, a press operator when he isn't serving as a munitions specialist for the 419th, said the deployment is a "chance to do my job. It's just train and train and train -- so this is the actual performance."
Besides the danger pilots will face from enemy fire, support personnel could come under attack by terrorists, said Lt. Col. Steve Helburn, maintenance squadron commander, who will leave in June as part of the second rotation.
The reservists went through final check-outs and a lengthy briefing in Hill's Building 900, a large terminal. Then they climbed aboard an olive-drab bus for a short ride on the runway to the airliner.