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Pope Airmen Leave for Gulf

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FAYETTEVILLE — The tentative deal with Iraq didn't stop airmen at Pope Air Force Base from taking off to the Gulf.

One hundred airmen said good-bye to their families this morning. Their mission: A regular rotation in the trouble Gulf region.

Such missions are nothing new for troops at Pope Air Force Base or at Fort Bragg. In fact, today's deployment is part of a regular rotation. The 2nd Airlift Squadron is headed to the Gulf in support of already established Operation Southern Watch. But the airmen know that if things heat up in Iraq, they could be called to action. That has a lot of people holding their breath, and makes this deployment even harder to take for loved ones.

The 2nd Airlift Squadron will serve as support. Using eight C-130S already in the Gulf, the airmen are ready to perform air drop missions if needed.

Pope's commander, Col. David Johnson said, "There's a little heightened concern because of recent events, but they're all pumped and ready to go over to do what we ask them to, and we're really proud of their going. Even though this is a scheduled routine mission expected to last 45 days, troops know they could be in the Gulf region much longer, and their mission could be anything but routine."

Families, of course, are focused on only one thing: the safety of their loved ones. "I just hope he's safe. It's hard. I don't know when I'll get to talk to him. It's just hard seeing him go," said Lori McHenry of her husband, who had just boarded his plane.

Of course, everything depends on the negotiations in Iraq. But if all goes as planned, the 2nd Airlift Squadron should be back home mid-April.

Meanwhile, protests continue against the United States stand against Iraq. Students rallied outside Cameron Indoor Auditorium at Duke today.

They say the U.S. is violating foreign policy and should not isolate Iraq as the only country capable of using biological weapons.