Troops from Fort Bragg embark for Mideast

WILMINGTON, N.C. (UPI) — Hundreds of army troops from Fort Bragg and jet fighters from North Carolina Air Force bases headed for the tension~filled Middle East Sunday to shield Saudi Arabia and its oil fields from a possible incursion by lraqi troops.

Trucks loaded with paratroopers in battle dress, ammunition. explosives and other weapons lumbered down highways from Fort Bragg to the port of Wilmington Sunday, apparently bound for the Persian Gulf.

In Washington, the Pentagon reported that Air Eorce F-15E Eagle fighter aircraft from Seymour Johnson Qir Force Base, N.C., have been deployed to the Middle East.

The jets join F-1SC and D models and F-15S jets already in place, the Pentagon said in a briefing for reporters.

Contingents of the 82nd Qirborne left the base near Fayetteville, N.C., on Friday on giant troop transports and flew to Saudi Arabia to become the first U.S. forces to take up positions since President Bush ordered them to defend the American ally.

Fort Bragg had been on alert after Bush announced the U.S. plan to intervene in the Middle East to blunt any effort by Iraq to move into Saudi Qrabia after taking over oil—rich Kuwait next door.

Wives of the 82nd airborne paratroopers kept a stiff upper lip and show of support as their men went off grimly to what may become a shooting war.

The soldiers' wives asked americans to wear patriotic red, white and blue ribbons to show support for the U.S. forces.

"We are asking all Americans to wear red, white and blue ribbons to show their support for our military forces in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf," said Theresa B. Cassi.

Cassi and many of the about 50 other wives from Fort Bragg and a nearby Pope Air Force Base said they did not know whether their husbands had been dispatched to the Middle East.

They said they only knew that the men had not been home since President Bush announced that the 82nd airborne would be involved.

Officials at Fort Bragg, Pope_and Seymour Air Force Bases, Cherry Point Marine Air Station and other North Carolina military stations maintained a news blackout on movement of troops and equipment and referred all calls to the Defense Department.

Many of the women who appeared at a news conference at Fort Bragg Saturday said their husbands had taken part in the U.S. invasion of Panama, aimed at capturing strongman Manuel Noriega.

The women said the mission in the fiersian Gulf had a different character and different worries.

"Noriega was more like a-cat~and—mouse game," saie Stacey L. Burnett. "This is like trying to move a brick wall."

Linda B. Coy, wife of a Pope Air Force Base airman, said the connection between his absence and the Persian Gulf deployment was all too clear. She said she did not learn about Panama until he was on his way home.

"My children commented that they wished it was like that now, that they didn't know," she said.

The women were confident that their husbands were well trained and well equipped for whatever eventuality they face' find they expected them to stay a long time.

The women were resolved to the involvement of their husbands, who are career soldiers. "It's his job," said Janet E. Hilcoxen.

The call-up of the 82nd Airborne has played havoc with lives and families and even marriage plans.

Base Chaplain Col. Bernard H. Lieving said there have been more than a dozen couples who speeded up plans and walked to the altar during the past few days.

Lieving said soldiers bound for the Middle East are carrying symbols for spiritual comfort. Chaplains and assistants handed out hundreds of rosaries, Bibles, crucifixes and other symbols as troops prepare for departure.

Chaplains and assistants are assigned to every combat unit and go where they go, Lieving said.

"We're trying to bring soldiers hope that there is something beyond man's inhumanity to man," he said.