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Varied missions radiate from base

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003

TAMPA -- As the world knows, a plain-talking general named Tommy Franks is running the war against Iraq.

Here's what the world may not know: There are thousands of people in Tampa, both military and civilian, assisting with the many tasks required to launch an invasion.

According to Lt. Col. Jim Yonts, U.S. Central Command in Tampa provides real-time support for intelligence analysis, logistics and planning to the temporary war headquarters in Qatar.

About 2,500 people work at CentCom in Tampa. About 600 are in Qatar.

"Based upon advancements in technology, the connectivity between Tampa and Qatar remains seamless," CentCom spokesman Yonts said in an e-mail this week.

Franks, an Army general, is in charge of CentCom, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in south Tampa. Franks, however, is not in Tampa. He is at CentCom's so-called "forward headquarters" in Qatar.

There are nine central commands worldwide. The Tampa operation is responsible for a region ranging from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East.

CentCom has another role in the war on terrorism -- to provide "command and control oversight" for the mission in Afghanistan.

"The operation, called Valiant Strike, is to conduct reconnaissance operations of suspected al-Qaida locations, to deny them sanctuary and to prevent the re-emergence of al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan," Yonts said.

CentCom isn't the only command at MacDill. The base also is home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing and Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation's Special Operations forces.

In all, there are 49 "tenants" at the base, said Sgt. Chris Miller, a spokesman for the Air Force wing.

MacDill has drawn many of the nation's top military experts, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who was commander of CentCom and in charge of the first Gulf War in 1991.

CentCom is run by a four-star general who reports to the Department of Defense. MacDill is run by a one-star general who reports to the Air Force.

The duties of CentCom and the Air Force Base are separate, Miller said.

"Our mission is to fly the KC-135 aircraft," said Miller, referring to the giant refueling planes, many of which are currently in the Middle East. "CentCom's mission is to promote and protect U.S. interests in the Middle East."

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