Troops Headed to Iraq Bid Farewells
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ As his fighter unit headed for the Persian Gulf Friday, Air Force Capt. Tim Butcher had mixed feelings about shipping out so close to the holidays.
``It’s kind of exciting to actually get the opportunity to do what you spend so much time training to do,″ Butcher said. ``I’m excited, but I’m also a little frustrated that it has to be at this time.″
He and his wife, Tracy, have a 2-year-old daughter and another child due in April. Butcher has been out of the country on various missions four times in the last 16 months, and each time, he prepares for the worst.
``I try to get the house in order, arrange power of attorney and make sure my will is up to date,″ Butcher said. ``I want to be over there with a clear conscience in case something happens.″
Butcher’s 421st Fighter Squadron out of Sand Hill Air Force Base north of Salt Lake City is among the many reinforcements shipping out to help U.S. forces attack Iraq.
At Fort Bliss, Texas, about 500 soldiers gathered in an auditorium at the Army post Friday night to say goodbye to relatives and friends. The room was noisy, but the mood was solemn.
Identical twin sisters Sonya and Tanya Hardman shared a tearful embrace. Sonya is a private and Tanya is a receptionist at the base.
``I’m sad because we’ve been together all of our lives,″ said Sonya, 24. ``I was really looking forward to spending Christmas with my family, especially this girl who looks just like me. But when they call, we have to haul.″
Security officer David Spencer, who recently returned from a November deployment, had to say goodbye again to his wife and 6-year-old daughter.
``I feel we have to go because there is a threat and we have to take care of it,″ Spencer said. ```But there is nothing in the world that could make leaving my little daughter at Christmas any easier.″
A total of nearly 800 troops began leaving Friday night. Other Texas units heading out included members from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio.
The first of about 170 personnel from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina also left on Friday.
``It’s tough, no matter what time of year I go, but they were ready for this,″ said Sgt. Stacey Worsley, who has a wife and two children. ``We’ll just have to do Christmas when I get home.″
The departure so close to the holidays was also tough for Army Spc. Nicole Denson, who is among the 135 people being shipped from North Carolina. She is leaving her son behind as she heads overseas for the first time.
``But as long as I’m making a difference, that’s a good thing,″ Denson said.
At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, 105 members of the 1st Fighter Wing were leaving Friday, including Col. Hawk Carlisle, who had just arrived in the Gulf last month when President Clinton decided at the last minute against striking Iraq.
``We’re going in to back up and reinforce what’s already been accomplished,″ said Carlisle. ``We think something positive will come out of this, instead of just going over there and being spun around.″
Around Fort Stewart in Georgia, soldiers lined up to get desert gear, prepare wills, check life insurance policies and take care of other matters. Medics jabbed them with needles to protect them from diseases ranging from typhoid to anthrax.
Army Pvt. Phillip DeVault, who was trying on boots in the warehouse, had planned to spend Christmas with his sister in Tampa, Fla. But the radio operator, in the Army only seven months, said he wants to go to the Mideast, despite the inconvenience.
``I’m going to be honest _ it’s for the money,″ said DeVault, 20, of Salt Lake City. ``It’s tax free and there’s combat pay and the best thing is, there’s no place to spend it. What am I going to do, buy a grain of sand?″