Emory Bryan, News On 6

IRAQ -- Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq by the end of the year. Among those are members of the 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron which is the 138th Fighter Wing based in Tulsa.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Shawn Rose explains in a video clip [watch clip above], how a group of Oklahoma Air National Guardsmen are providing top cover during the withdrawal.

"It's important to have armed aircraft flying above the troops in case they're attacked when they're on the convoy routes leaving Iraq," said Lt Col Rick Poplin, Commander, 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

Before the planes arrived, the challenge was to build a support system on a short deadline. An advance team moved into an empty airfield flew in everything they needed, and got it ready in 9 days.

"Normally we're replacing an operating F-16 squadron, at a fully operating base. This time we're standing up an F-16 squadron at a bares bones base that doesn't have any F-16's. There's no one here to replace. We're coming in having to do everything from scratch," Lt. Col. Poplin said.

It takes more than 200 people to keep a handful of F-16's ready to fly. The maintenance is constant but necessary.

"The airplane has to be ready to go when it need to go. It could be at a moment's notice, or a scheduled time. Whatever it may be, we have to make sure our airplane is fully mission capable," said Sgt. Justin Baker, Crew Chief, 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

The Oklahomans are operating with squadrons from Arizona and Ohio. This is the 3rd deployment to Iraq for the 138th - and it's the shortest - just two months. They'll be back before Christmas.

"For all the people who have loves ones at home, they have to realize we have the best people out here on the job and we take it extremely seriously. We're completely dedicated to do everything possible to get everyone home safely," said Lt Col. Marc Scorsone, Operations Officer, 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

Squadrons from the 138th have served often in the middle east. They'll put out from Iraq on the same timeline as the other troops. The 138th Fighter Wing is based at Tulsa International Airport.