November 23, 2004 (by Franklin Fisher) - With the Kunsan Air Base runway to reopen Wednesday, about 500 Kunsan airmen have begun re-packing their tools and other equipment and making their way back from Osan.
When repairs began last month, the airmen and dozens of F-16 jets moved north to Osan, about 63 miles from their permanent base at Kunsan.
Kunsan Air Base, on Korea's western seacoast, is home to the 8th Fighter Wing, known as the "Wolf Pack." Except for the flying operations that shifted temporarily to Osan, Kunsan has continued regular day-to-day operations.
"They're all going to come back - people, cargo, aircraft. They're essentially finished with their mission and they're going to be re-deploying back home to Kunsan," 1st Lt. Michelle Estep, a Wolf Pack spokeswoman, said Thursday.
The Wolf Pack's F-16s will fly back to Kunsan. Its support troops will head back by buses or in military vehicles, Estep said.
"Actually, it's just like coming back in waves."
Base officials plan to mark the runway's reopening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a jet flyover formation led by "The Wolf," 8th Fighter Wing commander Col. William W. Uhle Jr.
"Col. Uhle will be the first one to land on our new runway," Estep said.
Construction crews began work about Oct. 1; "the goal was to have everyone back by Thanksgiving," Estep said. "The goal is going to be met."
The $7 million runway project called for workers to replace concrete slabs, remove streaks of rubber formed when aircraft tires touch down, repaint runway markings and repair "spalling" - loose concrete fragments that create pitting or potholes.
Workers also were to replace "threshold lights" at each end of the runway, extend approach lights and install or repair airfield signs.
Thursday afternoon at a "tent city" where the Wolf Pack airmen have been living while deployed here, Senior Airman Sharod Allen was busy packing sleeping bags and cots for shipment back to Kunsan. Allen, 24, of Fayetteville, N.C., is an information manager with Kunsan's 8th Maintenance Squadron and works with computers.
For Allen, the temporary deployment brought an opportunity to hold broader job responsibilities than at Kunsan.
"With the computers, I'm the only one here in charge of the network," said Allen. "So if something goes wrong, I'm in charge of getting it fixed."
At Kunsan, "I can fix it but if I can't, I can always call 'comm,'" Kunsan's communications troops," he said. "But here, I am 'comm.' I have to fix it. It's fun though. I like it."
For Airman 1st Class Elisa Nikolic, 20, of New York City, one of the big differences about being at Osan was living in a tent the whole time.
"Conditions were a lot different from what I'm used to," said Nikolic, who works in personnel with Kunsan's 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The temporary deployment also meant very different working hours. "I'm usually day shift at Kunsan but here they had me working three to 11... It took me a little while to get used to it."