By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2007 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pleasantly surprised a number of Air National Guardsmen on their way to war. Following successful meetings in Italy, Marine Gen. Peter Pace was on his way back to the United States when his C-40B aircraft landed here to refuel.
At the next gate from Pace's aircraft was a planeload of Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen and three active-duty airmen on their way to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq's Anbar province. The Guardsmen are part of the 111th Tactical Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. The unit will fly A-10 Thunderbolt II air support for Marines and soldiers in the province. The unit is based at Willow Grove Air National Guard Base, near Philadelphia. The active-duty airmen are C-17 mechanics based at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
Pace was traveling in civilian clothes, but there was no mistaking his Marine haircut and bearing. "I'm telling you, that's a four-star (general)," one airman said to a friend as the general walked over.
Pace spoke to every airman, shook hands with them, and presented the chairman's coin to them. The Guardsmen will spend two months in Iraq; they are splitting the four-month rotation with a sister unit from the Idaho Air National Guard.
Many of the pilots in the unit fly for commercial airlines, Lt. Col. Chip Eissler said, adding that many of the pilots have made multiple deployments to the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
It would be fair to call this airport outside Dublin a crossroads of war. This was not the first time Pace has met soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines here, either going to war or coming home from it.
Between 4,000 and 8,000 U.S. troops pass through the airport each week, usually at night, said Army Lt. Col. Martha Reynolds, the Defense Department's aerial port manager. She said the Irish workers at the airport help make the U.S. servicemembers feel at home. The area has phones, Internet connections, a duty-free area and a pub.