DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, DEL. — Tech. Sgt. Robert Gray of Edgewood is a tall, burly man with a rugged face. In his Air National Guard fatigues he looks every bit the fighter. But ask him about his son, and he immediately gets teary.
Graysays he gets emotional because he's glad he's the one whose been called to duty for the Persian Gulf crisis and not his 17-year-old son, Chris, who just signed up for the Navy.
A Vietnam veteran who served 14 years himself in the Navy, Gray, 43, is the acting first sergeant of the Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Mobile Aerial Port Flight.
The 55 members of the 135th were ordered to report Dec. 27 to their home station at Warfield Air National Guard base at Martin State Airport in Essex, Baltimore County.
From there, the Guardsmen were deployed here to load transport aircraft with supplies for U.S. troops stationed in the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield.
Four other Harford residents are members ofthe 135th on duty at Dover: Staff Sgt. Daniel Baity; Tech. Sgt. Dennis Barnes; Staff Sgt. James Elliott; and Tech. Sgt. Brian Petz.
Their assignment will last at least 179 days, but could be increased to 360, said Capt. Salvatore Demarco, a Baltimore resident who is second-in-command of the unit.
Gray, who says he "joined for the money and stayed because he loved the job," said he hopes that his service may prevent others from having to fight in the Persian Gulf.
"I'd rather see me go than my son," said Gray, whose civilian job includes working as a loading operator in the computer room of Waverly Inc., a printing company in Baltimore.
"If my being here means some young kid won't have to go, I'm glad I'm here," he said. "I've already had a life."
Chris, a senior at Joppatowne High School, has made his father proud by entering into the delayed-entry program with the Navy.
As acting first sergeant, Gray said he's part trouble-shooter. Hemust keep on top of personnel changes and assignments and coordinatethe payroll.
Another duty he has taken on since coming to Dover is to set up an area that members of his unit refer to as "the beach."
Gray said the beach will be a stock-piling area, away from the main storage facilities. Those sections will contain prepacked materials that may be needed in an emergency, such as medical supplies and special parts for weapons and vehicles.
He is proud of the work the 135th is doing. But his pride in his work is matched by the pride he has in his family.
Even though Gray is just a few hours drive fromhis Harford home, he said he misses his wife, Gerrie, and four children -- Chris, Jennifer, 20, Julie, 22, and Laurie, 24.
"He made meproud when I watched him get sworn in to the Navy program. I just hope I can make him proud by my service here," said Gray.
Gray said he is ready to go to the Persian Gulf if assigned there. But he hopesthe conflict does not turn to war.
"I hope there can be a peaceful settlement," he said. "I think they should do some serious talking and try the sanctions for a year to see if they work."
He said he would like to be home to see his son graduate from high school in June, but for now he believes his place is with the Guard.
"Right now,I am here to do a job. To me, it doesn't matter if its here, Germanyor Saudi Arabia," he said.
Sergeant Petz also would prefer to be stationed closer to home, buthe says he's committed to doing a good job at Dover.
Petz, 36, is one of the full-time Guard members with the 135th, working every day at the unit's home base.
Military life at Dover has not been a difficult adjustment for Petz -- except that he misses his wife, Deborah, and four young children.
But Petz saidhe is eager to do a good job.
"I hope to get into a rhythm here soon," said Petz, adding that the 12-hour shifts are tiring. "People here know we are from Maryland, and I hope we can show them that we can do the job we were sent here to do and do it well."
Like many others in the 135th, Petz spends his days loading the C-5B Galaxy aircraft -- the largest in the Air Force. Lt. Theresa Shallock, a public affairs officer at the base, said C-5Bs can hold six Greyhound buses, 106 Ford Mustangs or 83 million pingpong balls.
The clamor of forklifts shifting and moving and boxes being dragged along the warehouse floor gets so loud in the airplane hangars that Guard members must wear ear protectors.
Supplies being shipped included coffins, airplane and tank parts and the personal belongings of troops who have been moved from bases in Germany to Saudi Arabia.