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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Hickam-based C-17s heading for Australia

By Audrey McAvoy
Associated Press

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawai'i — The U.S. Air Force is sending two C-17 cargo planes from Hawai'i to help Australia prepare its troops for deployment to East Timor.

The planes were due to leave Hickam Air Force Base yesterday to assist Australian forces in the region but there are no plans to send them to East Timor, said Pacific Command spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Bigelow.

The Australian government requested the military airlift support.

Australia said it will send up to 1,300 troops, ships, helicopters and armored personnel carriers to the Southeast Asian country, which has been hit by a series of gun battles between renegade troops and government forces.

The C-17s are expected to transport Australian troops from the Solomon Islands to Australia as well as help move troops within Australia, said Col. Mark Tapper, chief of staff at Kenney Headquarters, Air Force's operations command center for the Pacific.

Hickam has been home to C-17s since February, when the first of eight jets due to be based in the Islands arrived. The last of the eight is due to arrive in July.

The planes are changing Hickam into an Air Force transport hub capable of quickly deploying cargo jets to address contingencies around the Pacific.

Before the C-17s arrived, Hickam was most widely known in the Air Force as a refueling stop for planes crossing the Pacific.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Col. Mark Tapper's last name.