Local troops heading to Iraq this morning got some good news before they left. The most wanted man from Saddam Hussein's regime has been captured. US paratroopers captured Khamis Al-Muhammad, a former regional chairman and militia commander for the Baath party. He's suspected of aiding in many insurgent attacks.
Al-Muhammad was number 54 on the 55 most wanted list, of which there are just 13 who haven't been captured. Even with so many of the most wanted captured, Iraq is still a very hostile place for American military men and women. Especially for members of the 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard. The military has been rotating these Guardsmen in and out of the Middle East for the past year, and their mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom was just extended for another six months.
More than 50 troops flew out of Savannah early this morning, and for some, this is their third time going back to the Middle East. They told us these deployments are not getting any easier.
"I think the hardest part is just leaving your family," said Maj. Mark Trammall.
"Rotations we've been doing throughout the year," said Lt. Col. Keith Edenfield. "We're coming up on our first year mark. We got it extended another six months. It's just an on going operation we're supporting."
For some, this is their first deployment, but for those who have already been there, going back again is anything but routine. "I'm not looking forward to going, but I'm looking forward to getting back, so it's going to be different this time," said Chief MSgt. Richard Bell. "It will be a little more dangerous."
And the danger level is steadily increasing, "It's still a dangerous operation that we have over there," Lt. Col. Edenfield told us. "Airplanes are getting shot at on a weekly basis. It's still a very high threat area. Our guys are aware of it, they're very prepared, very well trained to undertake the operation."
As these men and women boarded up and prepared for the mission ahead, the families they left behind will be patiently waiting for their safe return. Today's group is replacing another that left back in early December. That group will be home some time next week.