John Astle would rather fight than legislateFive days a...

DESEERT STORM - Notes from the home front

January 25, 1991

John Astle would rather fight than legislate

Five days a week, John C. Astle is a Maryland legislator. But the Marine Corps reservist would rather be in the Persian Gulf, and he is pleading to be sent there.

"I know a lot of people think I'm crazy," Astle, D-Anne Arundel, said.

"But I've trained to take my place alongside the active-duty forces in this sort of situation," he said. "I just feel like that's kind of what my purpose in life is."

Astle, 47, is a colonel in the Marine Corps reserves, but has not been in a unit since September.

Astle said he started lobbying to be called to active duty the day after the United States led the attack on Iraq. He said he is on the phone almost daily talking with friends high in the Marine Corps hierarchy. There has been no response, but he is not giving up.

"I just keep calling, saying, 'Heard anything?' They keep saying, 'No,' " Astle said.

Astle, a helicopter pilot, served in Vietnam and helped in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. "This is what my life has sort of been about, both as an active duty officer and in the reserve," he said.

RUMORS, RUMORS, RUMORS

People concerned about the war and possible terrorism have flooded Baltimore's rumor-control line with questions. Among other things, people are worried about bomb threats, terrorism and whether the Super Bowl will be canceled, said Alvin Gillard, one of the phone-line operators.

At least one company -- Maryland National Bank -- might see a tiny silver lining in the war's dark cloud. Since the war broke out, worried depositors have virtually stopped calling to check on rumors about the bank's solvency -- calls that had been flooding in, Gillard said.

'ATTENTION, BUREAUCRATS!'

Besides sending its share of soldiers, sailors and airmen, Maryland may be sending over a contingent of bureaucrats. The 352nd Civil Affairs Command, a reserve unit from Riverdale in Prince George's County, was being activated today for possible Persian Gulf duty.

Civil affairs units serve as liaison between tactical military leaders and the local community, specifically lending expertise to the local government, said Peter Hnatiuk, an Army spokesman at Fort Bragg, N.C.

THE LITTLE BOMB-MAKER

When a one-alarm fire did extensive damage to a house in Hampden the other day, city Fire Department investigators came up with a surprising cause of the blaze.

A 6-year-old boy playing with matches ignited an upstairs bedroom. The fire tore through a mattress, clothes, walls and ceiling. No one was injured but property damage was estimated at $20,000.

Why was he playing with matches, investigators asked the frightened boy? "He told our people he was building a bomb to send to the Army so they could win the war in the gulf," an astonished fire Capt. Patrick P. Flynn said.

YELLOW RIBBONS

Officers in the Baltimore County Police Department can display yellow ribbons on their patrol vehicles but not on their uniforms, a spokesman said today.

Spokesman E. Jay Miller said the distinction was made after some misunderstandings circulated inside the department about officers showing support of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. A yellow ribbon signifies support of U.S. troops in the war and does not necessarily reflect an opinion about official war policy.

Miller said officials fear an officer could be perceived as taking sides at, say, an anti-war protest and could be hindered in performing his or her job. But they will be allowed to display the yellow ribbons from the antennas or door handles or their police cruisers.

State troopers, starting today, will be authorized to attach yellow ribbons to their vehicles.

SUPPORT FROM ALL OVER

Signs of pro-military support continue to crop up: At Dave's Texaco on York Road near the city-county line, the owner is now flying Saudi and Kuwaiti flags along with the usual American flag. . . . A beat-up maroon van, seen near Cross Street Market in South Baltimore, featured two messages spray-painted in big, black letters on the vehicle. The writing on the driver's side read, "Support our troops!!!" On the rear of the van, the message said, "Liberate Kuwait!!!" . . . Through Jan. 31, the Baltimore chapter of the Navy League, a civilian support group for the Navy and Marines, is gathering paperback books, puzzles and games to send to troops in the Middle East. Because of religious restrictions in Saudi Arabia, organizers are asking donors to remove suggestive covers from donations. For more information, call 889-9270.

PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

Thomas W. Waldron, Patrick Ercolano, Joe Nawrozki, Susan Reid and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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