Md. units feel Persian Gulf ripple effect Guard, reservists reporting for duty

November 16, 1990|By David Michael Ettlin and Sandra Crockett

The ripple effect of the movement of U.S. troops into the Persian Gulf was felt yesterday in Towson, where Maryland National Guard soldiers reported for active duty, and at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as Navy reservists headed for duty in the Pacific.

Two days ago, they were all engaged in civilian jobs -- cook, computer salesman, letter carrier or architect -- that cut across the spectrum of American society. Yesterday, they shared tearful farewells with spouses, children, parents and friends.

At the Towson Armory, 119 Guard military police officers -- including 16 women -- began arriving at 5:30 a.m. By 8 o'clock, when their co-workers were weaving through rush-hour traffic, the suddenly full-time soldiers were lined up in formation listening to a pep talk.

"I can guarantee you that the next two weeks are not going to be easy," said their captain, identified only as Tony. The Guard asked that full names not be used, to protect the soldiers and their families. "And it is not going to get any easier after that. You have to be strong and you have to be motivated."

The soldiers are scheduled to take part in a military parade in Towson at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, then head to Fort Meade for further preparations. Their ultimate destination was not announced.

The Navy reserve Seabees -- about 50 construction battalion building, electrical and architectural specialists -- made no secret of their destinations and assignments for at least the next three months, replacing full-time sailors transferred to Gulf duty from bases in Guam, Okinawa and other Pacific posts.

But not everyone had to say goodbye.

Construction Engineer 2 Richard Stevenson, 43, uprooted from his civilian job as a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. repairman, was taking his wife and two stepdaughters, ages 7 and 13, with him to Guam at a personal cost of thousands of dollars.

The family had accompanied him to Fort Hueneme, Calif., during two weeks of training in June, and his wife, Robin, 32, made a second trip when Mr. Stevenson and the other Seabees were called for more training in late October.

Mrs. Stevenson said the cost and trouble -- closing up the family's Joppa home, taking the children out of school, calling Navy family assistance specialists -- was "worth it to keep the family together."

The older daughter, Jessica Sokol, an eighth-grade honor student at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Towson, admitted to being "upset" at saying goodbye to friends in the school she has attended since first grade. But she added, "Six months is an awfully long time to be away from my mother. It would be harder to stay than to go."

She sat on the floor of the airport boarding area yesterday with her sister, Katie Canapp -- a second-grader at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air -- amid a pile of carry-on luggage, a small stuffed animal and a baby doll, waiting for their parents to sort out logistics.

Nearby, Jerome Woody, a 38-year-old Dundalk mailman, was posing with his wife, Diane, and 7-year-old daughter, Vanessa, for his parents' camera. He and a friend, Stephen Berry, a 40-year-old Baltimore County school system groundskeeper and father of three young children, were bound for Okinawa.

Michael Lease, 29, a medical technician at St. Agnes Hospital and soon-to-be Navy hospital corpsman, was kissing his wife, Claire, and 2-year-old son, Tyler, his nieces and his mother-in-law. Before Mr. Lease crosses the Pacific, they had an ocean of tears for him.

And Lt. j.g. Philip Branson, 37, was hugging his wife, Jill, and four young children before boarding USAir Flight 1014 to Los Angeles -- for the reserve sailors' first stop on the West Coast before heading on to the Pacific assignments.

The civilian director of engineering and public works at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland, Lieutenant Branson -- like the other Seabees -- was taking a big pay cut to fulfill the commitment he made when he enlisted in the Naval Reserve.

"I think there's a certain amount of relief in finally going," said Lieutenant Branson, of Great Mills, who signed up for the reserves three years ago after several years in his Navy civilian job.

"I'm just glad he's getting it over with now," said Mrs. Branson, who works as a planner for St. Mary's County.

As the last of the sailors stepped down the passenger ramp and out of sight, Mrs. Branson and the children, ages 3 to 9, stood at the window looking at the airplane. "It hasn't sunk in yet," she said, but her eyes blinked back tears.

Like the Seabees from the 23rd Battalion based near Fort McHenry, the Guard MPs in Towson were accepting their obligations to the military despite loss of pay and family separations -- and hoping for public support at time of growing disenchantment at the Persian Gulf standoff.

"Give us your support. We need it," was the message to the public offered by the 29-year-old captain, a computer printer salesman from Gaithersburg.

The soldiers included Michael, a 31-year-old truck driver from Dover, Del., who is leaving behind a wife pregnant with their first child. "She is kind of upset," he said. "She just found out she is pregnant last month."

Michael said he is not surprised that public opinion is swaying. "The public bitches about everything," he said.

"There is a problem over there and it has to be addressed," the guardsman said, expressing confidence in U.S. leaders and a prayer that "they can solve it at the table."

"The hardest thing is leaving your family," said Roderick, a 24-year-old retail stockroom worker from Woodlawn whose parents gave him advice before saying good-bye: "They told me to keep your head down and don't worry about things at home. They told me to worry about this."

Like most of the soldiers at the armory, Roderick was resigned about the call to arms: "I don't feel good about this, but it's something that I got to do."

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