Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Terry Hale last served on active duty 20 years ago when he was sling-loading cargo under Jolly Green Giant helicopters all over South Vietnam -- from the massive Bien Hoa air base to dinky and dangerous or landing zones on the Cambodian border.
Hale was 19 when he was drafted in 1969. He served 11 months with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in 1970 and 1971. He's 41 now and going on active service again today with the first Maryland Air National Guard unit activated in support of Operation Desert Shield.
The 55 members of the 135th Mobile Aerial Port Flight were ordered to report today to their home station at Warfield Air National Guard base at Martin State Airport. They'll deploy Saturday to Dover Air Force Base, Del., to load transport aircraft with supplies for the Persian Gulf.
"We'll be loading planes," Hale says, "lots of planes."
He expects his unit will work 13-hour shifts at Dover. Every airbase east of the Mississippi is reportedly swamped with cargo destined for U.S. forces in the field in Saudi Arabia.
"Regardless of how long and hard we work," Hale says, "we're still not in the desert. Those are the people we're working for. I've been there and this is a piece of cake, believe me."
His unit is being activated for 179 days. Ninety percent of 135th MAPF people are from the Baltimore area, Hale says; one is from Virginia, a couple are from just across the border in Pennsylvania, another couple more are from the Eastern Shore and Westminster; four are women. Major Ron Decker, a lawyer, is commanding officer.
Hale is one of four Vietnam-era veterans in his outfit, although he is the only one to have actually served in Vietnam. He's also one of four technicians who work full-time as civilians with the Maryland Air National Guard.
This time he goes on active duty leaving his wife, Pamela, and his son, Terence Keith, 6, behind. (Hale's official name is Frederick Terence.) And he thinks armed forces personnel are being treated much better this time around.
"I see a lot of differences now as opposed to 20 years ago," Hale says. "They're being very conscious and very considerate of people's lives."
The 135th MAPF's mission is, in effect, to operate or to set up a self-sufficient air terminal right down to providing its own perimeter defense. Lately, they've been training in air-drop supply, parachuting loads from C-130s onto Phillips Army Field at Aberdeen Proving Ground. At Dover, of course, they'll be working at one of the world's biggest and busiest airbases.
"We load every aircraft in the Air Force inventory," Hale says, "and whatever civilian aircraft that come into a military airport. We load C-5Bs, C-130s, C-141s, KC-105s, C-135s. . . ."
These are some big planes, but the C-5B Galaxies are the biggest.
"You can put something like twelve to fifteen Greyhound buses on the C-5s," Hale says.
He says the 135th is a close-knit outfit that has taken its active duty without much complaint.
"I don't get any bad vibes," Hale says. "I think everyone's taking it very positively."