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Seymour Johnson Ready As F-15E's Take Part In Airstrikes

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SEYMOUR JOHNSON, AFB — A new development on the war front is grabbing the attention of a local military base.

For the first time since air strikes began on Oct. 7, F-15E's are taking part in the attacks on Afghanistan. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is one of only four bases worldwide where those jets are kept.

Right now, all of Seymour Johnson's planes are still in North Carolina, but with the F-15E finally joining the fight, there is a high probability that some of the base's airmen could be called to join the campaign.

Seymour Johnson AFB is home to an aerospace expeditionary wing -- a highly specialized group trained to handle crisis situations. It is one of only two such groups in the world.

The F-15E, also known as the Strike Eagle, is a critical part of the Air Force arsenal. It is the Cadillac of today's fighter jets, extremely adaptable and effective in conditions other planes cannot handle.

"They can get down on the deck in all kinds of weather and at night and take out targets. That is not a capability that is resonant in most of our fighter aircraft," said Lt. Gen. Robert Springer, U.S. Air Force, Retired.

The Strike Eagle is the primary focus of Seymour Johnson. Hundreds of airmen fly and support the aircraft of the 4th Fighter Wing. The planes are famous for fighting both air-to-air missions and air-to-ground missions.

In Asia, the F-15E's could also serve as a deterrent.

"Let's make sure that someone like Kim Il Sung in North Korea or Saddam Hussein in Iraq doesn't take advantage of our preoccupation with this and want to exercise some options that they may have elsewhere," said Springer.

The other key outfit at Seymour Johnson is the 916th Air Refueling Wing. Reservists use KC-135R's to refuel other planes in midair at speeds of up to 400 miles an hour.

The air refueling wing has been authorized to call up more than 300 airmen, but will not say if any have been deployed.

Maj. Keith Tackett of the 916th Air Refueling Wing said that the group would be especially useful in this phase of the war.

"We can refuel virtually every aircraft in the Air Force inventory," he said. "We can also, with the attachment of a drogue unit -- which is a piece of flexible hose that goes on the end of our boom -- refuel anything in the Navy and many of our NATO allies."