A squadron of 24 F-16 fighters left this secret base on Monday for Hill Air Force Base in Utah after more than six months in the Persian Gulf.

A chartered 747 airliner carrying most of the support crew from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron also left the base en route to Hill Air Force Base. The approximately 350 airmen were to land Tuesday after refueling stops.Squadrons of fighters, part of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, made about 4,000 combat-related sorties against Iraqi forces from this base during the war.

Fay said the more than 2,000 base personnel worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week during hostilities.

Staff Sgt. Gary Kunich, 22, of Pittsburgh, remarked, "I couldn't sleep all night" thinking about his departure.

"The last time I had as much trouble sleeping was when I received orders to come out here."

Kunich recalled that when he and hundreds of others arrived 61/2 months ago, "Our orders were for 90 days."

Senior Airman Kevin Gustafson, 22 of Richland, Wash., said his family is driving to Utah and he looks forward to a "well-deserved massive homecoming."

Gustafson and scores of others lined the tarmac to wave and flash victory signs as the fighter pilots took off.