Guardsmen Feel The Load On Freight Duty For Mideast

January 06, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, DEL. -- For Sgt. Howard Gill and thousands of other military personnel, active duty has meant long hours, missing their families and worry about a war in the Persian Gulf.

But the Taneytown resident and MarylandAir National Guard member knows that he is luckier than many.

The 43-year-old printing company supervisor and Taney Court resident is one of two Carroll men called up to serve at the largest military air freight port in the world to support Operation Desert Shield.

The 55 members of the 135th Mobile Aerial Port Flight were ordered to report Dec. 27 to their home station at Warfield Air National Guard base at Martin State Airport in Essex.

From there the group ofmostly weekend warriors were deployed to Dover to load transport aircraft with all kinds of supplies for the troops in the Persian Gulf.

Their assignment will last at least 179 days, but can be increasedto 360, said Capt. Salvatore Demarco of Baltimore, second-in-commandof the unit.

Gill, who served 14 months in Vietnam, said he hated to leave his job and family, but knows it could be much worse.

"If you are going to be deployed someplace, at least it's good to be close to home," said Gill, who was able to go home to Taneytown last week to spend his day off with his wife, Andrea, and children, Heather, 9, and Jonathan, 5.

Gill spends his days at Dover in a noisy, cavernous and drafty airplane hangar known as the "Old Washrack" because it once was used to clean all types of Air Force aircraft.

It's big enough to hold a 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 millionpingpong balls.

The clamor of forklifts shifting and moving and boxes being dragged along the warehouse floor gets so loud that Guard members must wear ear protectors.

It is Gill's job to go through the freight items that come into the airport, break them down, and place them in piles to be loaded onto planes and sent to their destinations.

Items 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.

Some of the personal belongings havebeen in the hangar for as long as three months, he said, because they are not a top priority for shipping.

"They need things like parts to fix broken airplanes right away," said Gill.

The loading and unloading of produce and airplane tires that occupies Gill for 12 hours a day at Dover is far removed from the way he spends his days at the Jon D. Lucas Printing Co. in Baltimore. There, he is an assistant preparation supervisor, coordinating paper work to make sure printingjobs are done the way they are supposed to.

"I hated to leave that job, but this is a good change for me," said Gill. "Its nice to receive orders for a while instead of having to give them all the time."

Gill, Sgt. Jerry Sheetz of Sykesville -- who was not available for comment -- and the rest of the 135th are living at an Econo Lodge just off the base, because the base housing is full.

Gill said it feels a little like a college dormitory, since he shares a room with Staff Sgt. Harold Payne, of Rosedale in Baltimore County.

The two men share many interests, said Gill, but they don't get to pursue them often because of their work schedule.

"Most times we get off work, go back and get changed and then go to dinner," said Gill. "After that, sometimes we try to watch television, but most of the time we just fall asleep."

One thing the men share is their longing for family and friends.

Gill said he misses the work he and his wife do with the youth group at their church -- Keymar Evangelical Christian Church.

He said he misses his family so much he had already called them four times in five days.

That is a bit of a Catch-22, though,because every time he calls home, his wife has another chore for himto do when he gets there, he said.

"Come to think of it, maybe its not so bad here after all," Gill said, chuckling.

Payne, who became serious when the conversation turned to his family, said, "I miss the hell out of my 2-year-old granddaughter." He said she calls him "Poppy," then didn't want to talk about her any more, as a lump welled in his throat.

For many of the members of the 135th -- including Gill and Payne -- this is not the first time they have been called up for active duty.

Gill served with the Army Air Cavalry in Vietnam, where he earned a Combat Infantry Badge -- given, he says, "to those who have been shot at" -- an Army Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal.

He said he believes the attitude of the officersand troops is much better now than it was in Vietnam.

Gill served a two-week stint at Dover in September when many of the troops were being shipped out.

"All the troops that I saw seemed to be in really good spirits," said Gill. "They know they have been trained well to do their job, and it seems like they are going to be allowed to do it this time.

"In Vietnam, there were certain places we couldn't go and areas we couldn't fight in. That was part of the things that hindered people. I don't think it will be that way this time," he said.

Gill said that like his fellow soldiers, his biggest fear about fighting against Iraq is the possibility of chemical warfare.

"We all have been trained in it, and we know what to do," he said. "But it's still a scary thought."

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