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Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Isle Guard
will take up
Mideast watch

The Hawaii air unit leaves
next month for at least three
weeks patrolling Iraq

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Rex Godinez uses a globe of the world to show his children where he has to go to service the fighter jets that patrol the skies over Iraq.

Twice before, the job has taken the Hawaii Air National Guard tech sergeant to the Persian Gulf. Next month, as part of a 250-member deployment, he will spend at least three weeks in Southwest Asia.

For security reasons, the Hawaii Guard won't say exactly where the unit will be stationed, nor the number of aircraft that will be deployed.

In 1994 and 1996, Godinez and other Air National Guard F-15 jet fighters, pilots and crews belonging to the 199th Wing were sent to the Persian Gulf to keep Saddam Hussein and his MiG interceptors in check.

In the past, Air Force and Air National Guard personnel patrolling the southern no-fly zone of Iraq flew out of bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Navy fighters were launched from the decks of nuclear carriers in the Persian Gulf. During past deployments, the Hawaii Guard has taken two to five jet fighters with them from its home at Hickam Air Force Base.

This time, Godinez's eldest daughter, Erin, 15, understands the mission and what it will mean.

"Isn't it dangerous?" is one of the questions Erin has asked her father, who has been with the Hawaii Guard for 19 years.

"We are going to do everything to try to make it safe," said Godinez, a crew chief.

Capt. Spencer "Nappy" Napoleon, the unit's logistic management officer, said the Hawaii contingent will join a "rainbow" Air National Guard unit composed of fighter aircraft and crews from Massachusetts, Louisiana, Missouri, Oregon and Florida.

Although the bulk of the Hawaii contingent may be gone for only three weeks, Napoleon, as a full-time maintenance specialist, expects he will miss Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas. His biggest challenge is staying in touch with his wife, Stacey, and daughters Kailee, 5, and Malia, 22 months.

Capt. John Traettino, an F-15 fighter pilot, is single and has been there flying similar missions on three occasions. He was on active duty with the Air Force for 11 years. The Mideast situation and the recent bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen doesn't worry him.

"Everyone is aware of the threat," said Traettino, 34, "but it's not anything we haven't trained for."

"It's an incredible rush," he added, speaking of the possible dangers. "That's part of the fun -- part of the excitement."

Godinez, a 1977 Aiea High School graduate, also said he's looking forward to the mission. "The Guard traditionally only protects the home front. Now we are getting into a world mission -- something that we have been trained for ... We'll finally get to do the job we have been training for so many years."

Increased attention to chemical biological warfare countermeasures, as well as more emphasis on small-arms weapons were among the beefed-up training precautions the Hawaii Air National Guard personnel have been undertaking.

Under Operation Southern Watch, initiated in 1992, Air Guard pilots will patrol to prevent Iraqi air strikes against Shiite civilians in southern Iraq (Shiites are the second-largest sect in Islam). These flights can take up to eight hours, said Traettino, and there is always the danger of MiG fighters and ground-to-air Iraqi missiles.

For ground crews, the mission continues long after the fighters taxi into the hangars, said Napoleon. His job is to keep the unit's 19 F-15 fighters in the air.

154th Wing

Bullet Location: Hickam Air Force Base
Bullet Commander: Col. Albert "Putt" Richards
Bullet Officers: 224
Bullet Enlisted: 2,154
Bullet Aircraft: 19 F-15 jet fighters, five C-130 Hercules troop transports and nine KC-135R jet tankers

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