Family members and loved ones whistled and cheered at Boise’s Gowen Field late Tuesday night as eight busloads of troops waved goodbye and shook hands with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and other officials before boarding chartered aircraft bound for various undisclosed locations.
More than 200 men and women in the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing deployed late Tuesday night to support combat operations in the Middle East.
They represent “the main body of the deployment,” which over the next few months will have sent more than 500 Idaho Air Guard members overseas, spokesman Maj. Chris Borders said. That’s the Idaho Air Guard’s largest deployment since 2008, when Idaho troops went to Afghanistan, he said.
This time, their destinations — even the route for the chartered Boeing 777 that transported them from Gowen Field to the spot where they will board military aircraft — are secret.
“Our airmen are already trained and ready,” Borders said. “They’re on their way.”
Few details of the mission have been released, except that the 124th will be part of Operation Inherent Resolve. This is the Idaho Air Guard’s first major deployment in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State.
Because of the nature of that militant group and the threat it poses, this deployment is being handled with heightened security, Borders said.
The troops headed overseas include pilots, maintenance crews, security officers, medical personnel and support staff. The average deployment will last about 180 days, spokesman Maj. Chris Borders said.
Virtually all units within the 124th Fighter Wing will provide personnel and/or equipment to this effort, Borders said.
The deployment will include the Air Guard’s squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a fighter jet that has been used extensively against Islamic State militants since last fall.
For Tuesday night’s departure, family members gathered inside a set of concrete barriers across the tarmac from the chartered plane as the airmen strode from bus to plane. A line of some 20 state, local and National Guard officials shook their hands. Some family members held signs, and their cheers and hollers competed with the aircraft engine noise. Media members were assigned their own barrier-lined area about 50 yards away from the families.
The deploying troops spent time with their families at Gowen that evening, then attended a mandatory briefing in a separate building before being taken to the plane.
The fighter wing’s more than 1,000 personnel are mostly part-timers who work in Idaho communities as policemen, firefighters, doctors, office workers and more, Borders said.
This deployment, once complete, will represent about half of the total manpower of the 124th, he said: “That’s what makes this so significant to us.”