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Airmen reopen base to support Iraq transition

by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central Command

9/6/2011 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- As U.S. Forces-Iraq members continue to return from Iraq, Airmen here have recently reopened an air base that was closed in 2004.

With U.S. service members and multiple flying squadrons expected to pull fully out of Iraq by late December, the U.S. Air Force has created a home for some of these units.

"We are here to provide continuous air coverage of forces pulling out of Iraq," said Lt. Col. Adam Shirriff, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group deputy commander. "Our goal is to support a smooth transition as forces withdraw."

Pre-advanced teams arrived weeks ago in order to set up the necessary sections to get the base started, officials said. Eleven days after the first Airmen arrived to activate the U.S. component of the installation, the first U.S. aircraft arrived here.

"We arrived here only weeks ago, and we're already able to land planes and bring in personnel," Shirriff said. "The (pre-advanced) teams arrived here in order to get the base prepared for follow-on forces to arrive. Now that the initial forces are here and things are setup, conventional forces will soon be able to take over."

The members of the pre-advanced teams couldn't have done it alone. The standup of this location was a team effort, which included its neighbors.

"Within 12 hours we increased our capabilities by 100 percent," said Senior Master Sgt. Joe Walsh, the fire chief here. "Firefighters from a nearby base volunteered some manpower along with the proper fire gear that allows for us to fight fires in low oxygen areas, including inside aircraft. One team, one fight has been the theme."

The activation of this base is unique, officials said. Unlike setting up at a bare location, there was already a military presence here.

"When I first saw the dining facility that I was supposed to set up, the building had nearly a half an inch of dirt and sand in it; critters were running around in here," said Tech. Sgt. Reginald Morrison, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command food services manager. "Within four days, we took this place and had it ready for service. My goal is that when our follow-on forces arrive, they won't be able to tell how this place looked before we got here."

There is evidence here of a base that once had life in it, officials said. A pool that once was full of water is now dry and full of beetles and sand. The roads are lined with walls that served as a canvas on which previous squadrons to painted their legacy.

"We're standing up a base that used to thrive," Shirriff said. "The buildings are dirty, but the infrastructures are robust and allows for us to bed down people in a short amount of time.

"By standing this base up, we're providing stability across Iraq while at the same time providing continuous air coverage," he said.

As the transition of Airmen in Iraq continues throughout the remainder of the year, the base will serve an important role in the months to come, officials said.

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