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Hill gives close-up look at high-tech weaponry

Tour shows how base is aiding U.S. war effort

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — From working with the most sophisticated laser-controlled bombs to processing scores of troops as they deploy for the Middle East, Hill Air Force Base has been contributing to America's war effort and the fight against terrorism.

Base officials showed reporters how troops leaving for the battlefield are processed and gave a guided tour of a weapons hangar where they showed off some of the latest bombs and missiles. The event took much of the day today, with most of the Salt Lake and Ogden media present.

Lt. Col. Robert C. Craig, chief of staff for the 388th Fighter Wing, showed cluster bombs, a Maverick missile and a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.

Craig, who flew combat sorties during the Desert Storm operation of 1991 with the 388th, said the Air Force is considering reducing the size of these bombs "because the accuracy is so high." If they were smaller than 500 pounds, an F-16 could carry more of the weapons, which are called GBU-12.

The pilot can shine a laser beam onto a target, and the bomb "picks up off that laser energy that's being reflected," he said. It homes in on the laser spot with deadly accuracy.

These bombs were only used on about 10 percent of the planes that flew during the first war with Iraq, but now 90 percent have them, Craig said.

However, clouds, fog, smoke and debris can interfere with the laser light. So weapons guided by global positioning satellite can be substituted.

"Now, with the current GPS-guided bombs, you can have zero, zero," he said.

That means the bombs can find their targets with no visibility. Also, if several are dropped at once, each can go for a separate target programmed into its silicon brain, as opposed to the pilot needing to shine a laser light on a single target.

Maj. Mildred Bonilla, commander of the 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said the unit is a relatively new one. It makes certain that deploying troops have everything they need for their missions, from chemical agent defenses to legal documents and shots necessary for foreign countries.

"It's pretty exciting" during processing of troops, she said. "When it's happening it goes pretty quickly."

Typically 40 to 50 people go through the deployment line per hour.

A chaplain will brief departing troops about the local people's sensitivities in areas where they are headed, said Capt. Brian Graves. That briefing could include information about the religious beliefs of people where they are going.

Sgt. Kevin Padberg, part of the squadron family readiness group, said as personnel go through the deployment line they are reminded to stay in touch with their families and told of the ways the military and help with problems at home. They are given a $20 phone card to help them keep in touch.

"They'll be doled out to everybody," he said.

Senior Master Sgt. Martin Guerra, who in civilian life is a police officer in San Diego, showed items that go in a "C-bag," which refers to chemical warfare defenses.

Each C-bag has two protective suits and four canisterlike filters for gas masks, as well as chemical agent detection tape and decontamination kits.

Hoods can be worn over gas masks to give further protection.

Another set of gear issued to some of the troops is called an "A-bag."

"This bag here, the A-bag, is like a camping bag," Guerra said. It includes a sleeping bag, mess kit, first aid kit, canteen and helmet. Every deploying man or woman gets a C-bag, and depending on where they're going they'll get the A-bag also, he said.

A cold weather "B-bag" containing a parka is not issued for this conflict.

Senior Airman Chelli Forshel showed a kit issued with the C-bag containing injectable anecdote against chemical exposure.

"They each come with two (injectors), and the needles are pretty long," she said.

Each person is issued three of the kits so he or she will carry a total of six injectors.

Airman 1st Class Lakeisha Smith, a 19-year-old from Oxford, N.C., demonstrated how to put on a gas mask with hood. When the mask is used alone a fighter has nine seconds to get it on and, with a hood, 15 seconds.

She also showed how chemical detection tape is worn on both forearms, both calves and the wrist.

"It turns a pinkish, reddish color when the agent is on it," she said.

Lt. David Dufresne showed reporters how cargo is loaded into aircraft as troops leave.

"With the troops we have a lot of cargo that goes through too," he said.

Technical Sgt. Thom Beck, a reservist from Logan who was activated, said the 67th Airport Squadron does everything an airport does both with cargo and with passengers. They operate cargo trucks that range from a 4,000-pound forklift to what is termed a "60K loader."

The monster truck can haul 60,000 pounds of cargo at a time and lift it up to 19 feet to reach the cargo bay door of an airplane.

"They're very interesting to drive," he said. Operating one of these loaders takes special training. Its two front axles and two rear axles can turn "so it'll turn in a 100-foot circle," Beck said.

Dufresne said all the cargo is tracked by computer so that fighters can know when it will arrive or whether any delays have cropped up en route.