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Pope Airmen Leave for Kosovo, Bragg Soldiers on High-Alert

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POPE AIR FORCE BASE — TheDepartment of the Armyin Washington confirmed that up to 300 soldiers, many of them atFort Bragg, are on high-alert status.

They have been given a stand-by and wait order that is just short of a deployment order.

Of those 300 soldiers and the support assets that would go along with them, are troops from selected units of the 18th Airborne Corps.

They could come from Fort Bragg, but they could also come from some other 18th Airborne Corps units stationed at other bases across the country.

A Department of the Army official said these troops could do everything short of actual ground combat. For example, they could provide forces for security missions to support NATO.

Fort Bragg soldiers spend a good portion of their time preparing for a possible ground war. If the conflict in Yugoslavia continues to escalate, they could face the real situation.

"There's always a chance," says Spc. Renee Bessmer. "But that's our job, and if that's what happens, then that's what we'll do."

"I think there's a definite possibility because Fort Bragg is highly deployable," says Sgt. Keith Humphries. "I think there's a lot of need for ground troops now, and I think most of the public is behind us now."

While Bragg soldiers get ready for the conflict, their families remain on edge.

"There's definitely reason for concern," Humphries said. "Families do call up and ask us different questions, always wondering if we're leaving now, when we're leaving or if we're leaving at all."

"[My family] knew what I was getting into when I joined the Army, so this is what comes with the territory in the Army," says Pfc. George Cassidy.

While Fort Bragg soldiers await the official word of their deployment, airmen at Pope Air Force Base have their deployment order and are ready to go.

SixA-10 aircraftleft Tuesday morning for Kosovo. Twenty airmen and 20 tons of equipment from the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron loaded up on aC-5and headed to Europe Wednesday morning.

The group will work with other military medical units in the region to perform aeromedical evacuations of U.S. and NATO personnel.

"We set up a tent facility and we can care for anywhere from 10 to 50 casualties, sick, injured, whatever, patients. And we'll move them from one area of the theatre to another for more definitive medical care," says Capt. Jennifer Kimmet.

Last year, many of the same airmen were deployed to southwest Asia. It never gets easier for their families.

"When he was deployed in Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, last year, and he came home, she said 'Please don't be a soldier anymore, I don't like it when you're gone,'" says Ann Hannan about her daughter's reaction to last year's deployment.

"It's very difficult for not only the spouses, but also for the children and grandchildren that are left behind," Hannan says.

Along with the plane leaving Wednesday morning, another 60 airmen from the23rd Fighter Groupare also preparing for mission. They will support the six A-10s that were deployed from Pope.

Leaders say this is the start of what could be many deployments from Pope and Fort Bragg.

Pope is also preparing six to sevenC-130sthat can be called up at any time.


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