Burlington (Vt.) Free Press
Posted : Tuesday Jan 4, 2011
More than 200 members of the Vermont Air National Guard are being deployed this week to about a month of duty in South Korea.
The first group of airmen was scheduled to leave Tuesday morning: the pilots of six F-16 fighter jets. They will fly their planes to Kunsan Air Base, located about 150 miles south of Seoul, and await the remainder of the 240-member Vermont Air Guard contingent.
The Guard’s mission comes at a time of escalated tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea shelling a South Korean island in late November, followed by an exchange of harsh words threatening military action from both sides.
The deployment is unrelated to the recent developments, Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow said.
Guard members are being mobilized under a category of duty called an Aerospace Expeditionary Force, which typically rotates through military units every 18 months. The Vermont Air Guard hasn’t been part of an Aerospace Expeditionary Force since summer 2007, when about 250 airmen and several F-16s spent 45 days in the Middle East in support of the war in Iraq. Previous such deployments occurred in March 2006 and June 2004.
A small group of airmen left Monday, another subset is scheduled to depart Saturday, and the rest are due to leave Sunday, Goodrow said. Everyone in the mobilization, he said, volunteered to go.
“The men and women of the Vermont National Guard are very good at volunteering for missions,” Goodrow said.
The mission is to help provide security for South Korea, Goodrow said. Stationed at the Kunsan base is the 8th Fighter Wing, which on its website says it “is responsible for conducting air-to-ground and air-to-air missions in the 45 F-16s assigned to the wing. Its mission includes air interdiction, close air support, counter air, air superiority and suppression of enemy air defenses.”
The United States has about 28,500 troops in the country. About 3,000 American military personnel are stationed at Kunsan.
Vermonters are sharing a 60-day mission with the Alabama National Guard. The Vermont Guard is scheduled for duty for the first 30 days, and the Alabama unit will work the final 30 days, Goodrow said, although some Vermonters might stay on for all or part of the second month.