200 airmen prepare for Iraq deployment

By Lisa CleverdonLEAVING family and loved ones is never easy, no matter how long you are going to be apart.So imagine what it would be like if you were leaving them to go to a war-torn country still hit by daily bomb blasts.

By Lisa Cleverdon

LEAVING family and loved ones is never easy, no matter how long you are going to be apart.

So imagine what it would be like if you were leaving them to go to a war-torn country still hit by daily bomb blasts.

That is the prospect facing more than 200 air crew members, maintenance personnel and combat support troops from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath when they fly to Iraq within the next three weeks.

Among them will be 492nd fighter squadron commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher DiNenna, who has only recently returned from a stint in Iraq.

“This is what we have been training for and we know that we can go out there and do the best job that we are capable of doing,” he said.

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They will be deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where they will be on call 24 hours a day for three months.

Lt-Col DiNenna, who has a wife at RAF Lakenheath and children at home in America, said: “We are very much looking forward to this opportunity to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and the continuing fight against terrorism.

“I have already had the chance to experience what it is like being over there, so I have been able to brief everyone and let them know exactly what to expect.”

He added: “It can be very difficult leaving my family behind, but they are very supportive and they know that this is what I have been trained to do.

“The conditions in Iraq are not as bad as people think and it should not be too hot at this time of year. The troops are well fed and well looked after, so it is not really a concern to people.

“Everyone is now just looking forward to getting over there and getting the job done to the best of our ability so we can come home.”

In preparation for the three months that lay ahead, the squadron has received a visit from some of the tactical ground controllers who will direct their close-air support missions in Iraq.

The controllers supply airmen with the most accurate co-ordinates possible, using an extensive array of communications equipment.

Captain Eric Jorgensen, a weapons system officer with the 492nd flight squadron, said: “You learn more talking face-to-face than in two or three years of talking on the phone.”

Two more members of the team getting ready for deployment are Staff Sergeant Dave Modlinski and Airman First Class Keri Roemer, both from the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who will be making their first visit to the Middle East.

A1C Roemer, 25, said: “I do not have any family here at Lakenheath, but I can understand how difficult if must be for those who do.

“We will be carrying out general maintenance on the planes and will just be responsible for fixing anything that goes wrong.”

Sgt Modlinski, also 25, added: “We are really looking forward to having the chance to get to know the people we work with properly.”

“It will be such an experience for us, but other than being in a hot country, I don't think it will really be any different than it is here. We will be doing the job we have always done and are trained to do.”

lisa.cleverdon@eadt.co.uk

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