By Steve Holt, Copy Editor
With just hours remaining for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq, United States military forces are ready to begin their mission of unseating and disarming the Iraqi president.
Alongside hundreds of thousands of American troops in the Middle East, personnel and equipment from Abilene’s Dyess Air Force Base are expected to play an integral part in the struggle.
The two largest units that come out of Dyess are the 7th Bomb Wing and the 7th Airlift Unit, both of which are currently in either the Middle East or the Pacific islands. Dyess airmen and women have been deployed all over the world since July “to do what our nation needs us to do,” said Capt. Dave Honchul, chief of public affairs at Dyess.
Eight residents of the base currently take classes at ACU, but it is unknown whether they have been or will be deployed for combat.
Honchul said that under the current circumstances, no one on base knows if or when more Dyess troops will be called overseas, but that they are ready.
“When there is a buildup of military forces because of tension in the world; it’s those kinds of pop-up scenarios that you can’t predict,” he said. “But when you get that call, we want to do what our nation wants us to do.”
The 7th Bomb Wing is one of the premier bombing units in the Air Force, Honchul said, and likely will be responsible for dropping “smart bombs” on specified Iraqi targets. Its airmen and women, Honchul said, are ready for the transition from training exercises to combat.
“These people are trained to fight the war the nation is in,” he said. “We train them to fly into locations and drop bombs so that when they actually do it, it isn’t something they haven’t done before.”
The 7th Airlift Unit flies personnel and cargo to specific locations in the region, and Honchul said this unit was the primary supplier of “beans, bullets and boots” during the fall 2001 raids of Afghanistan, flying as many hours in one month as it normally does in a year.
Scott Hudson, senior human resource management major from Pittsburgh, Pa., has been retired from C-130 flight instruction and examination since 1998. Currently, he is a civilian deputy chief of air crew training of the 317th operation support squadron at Dyess.
Hudson said his unit has been ready for the occasion of war for several months.
“The 317th has been on a constant deployment state since July 2002,” Hudson said.
Honchul said the mood on base is businesslike, despite the tension surrounding the impending war.
“Everyone knows we have a job to do,” Honchul said. “There are hundreds of airmen who are deployed currently. The people back home have to pick up the slack.
He added that he hears positive comments from commanders on base about the Dyess response as a whole, and that the two main deployments to the region have gone very smoothly.
“I’ve been down on the deployment lines a couple of times, and the mood is casual, knowing they have a job to do,” he said.
And debate over whether the United States should invade Iraq is rare at Dyess, Honchul said.
“By and large, the people I’ve met with are proud to serve, proud of the job they do,” he said. “It’s not our place to join in debate but to rely on leaders to guide our nation, and for us to support our nation in that call.”
Hudson called on the nation for support.
“We need to hold the American military on a high pedestal because those guys have been risking their lives,” Hudson said. “They’re not the ones who make the policy, but the ones who have to enforce it.”
Honchul said the Abilene community has been supportive of Dyess thus far.
“The community should be proud of the support it gives Dyess,” Honchul said. “It is unsurpassed anywhere in the military.”
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