Local airmen heading for Afghanistan

Members of the 169th Fighter Wing prepare for departure at McEntire Joint National Guard base.

Eastover, S.C. (WACH) - Nearly 500 pilots, maintenance specialists and support staff from McEntire Joint National Guard base are heading to Afghanistan for the four month mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

A dozen or so F-16s began their journey early Thursday morning. "Iâ??m a little groggy,â?? said Major David Way. â??But once we start breathing oxygen, we'll start to liven up a little bit."

They'll stop in Spain for a day or two then complete the final leg of the trip to Afghanistan to begin a very important mission.

"Our overall mission is to use air power to support the ground forces,â?? said Colonel Mike Hudson. â??The intent is to be overhead, and be within six or seven minutes of helping ground forces at anytime."

This is the largest deployment for the 169th Fighter Wing since Operation Desert Storm in the early 90's.

The mission a sign that the United States and South Carolinaâ??s soldiers are still heavily involved with bringing stability to Afghanistan.

"I think we're well trained to support the ground troops, over there,â?? said Way. â??We've had a good training program and we look to do good work for them."