Local News

Bragg Soldiers Still on Standby, Pope Airmen Head to Balkans

Posted April 13, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— As the crisis in Kosovo escalates, more warplanes and personnel are being called to the region. Seven-hundred paratroopers fromFort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division are on standby to deploy to the Balkans, says U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre.

The North Carolina congressman says the paratroopers' mission will be to guard Apache helicopters and their crews.

"The 82nd Airborne division has received a deployment order," says Capt. Mike Solcum with the 82nd Airborne. "The division stands ready to go anywhere in the world in 18 hours notice, if called upon by the National Command Authority."

Members of the division's 3rd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, will go to Tirana, Albania, McIntyre said. The troops are not going as a ground force but as security for the helicopters.

"This is a logical next step that is critical to the air mission," said McIntyre, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "Air strikes are succeeding and the gap is narrowing."

While, Fort Bragg soldiers stand on high-alert, about 80 airmen fromPope Air Force Baseleft Wednesday morning to support NATO efforts in Kosovo.

The airmen left on three different aircraft loaded with equipment. Not even an early departure could keep some family members away.

Shana McHaffey did not think twice about packing up her eight-month-old daughter and driving to the base to see her husband off for his first deployment.

"I think we are all real proud of our husbands," McHaffey says. "We come here prepared, knowing they'll have to deploy at some point."

McHaffey says she does take some comfort in knowing her husband is deploying as a flight nurse. "I'm not scared at all," McHaffey says. "It's not like he's fighting somebody. He'll be caring for patients and that makes me feel better."

McHaffey's husband, and 19 other airmen from the 43rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, left for their mission at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday. The group will be performing medical evacuations of U.S. and NATO Personnel.

McHaffey had mixed feelings as he headed out to an unfamiliar part of the world in darkness.

"Part of me is looking forward to doing it," McHaffey says. "Another part of me hates for us to go do it because it means people are getting hurt."

Before taking off, many airmen, including Mauricio Defreitas, admitted feeling anxious. But veteran airmen say those feelings will pass, and their training will kick in.

"Those who haven't done this before may be wondering if they are prepared," says Lt. Col. Bruce Hannan. "I've seen them on their training missions; I've seen them train. They're ready when things start happening; training will kick in and they'll do a great job."

Along with the 20 airmen that left on the C5 are 60 others from the23rd Fighter Groupwho also took off Wednesday morning.

Pope also has 15 airmen from the 43rd Security Forces Squadron in Europe. They left March 30 to support Operation Allied Force.