First special forces units called up 2 guard companies are first to be activated for Persian Gulf war. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

February 21, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Men in shorts and T-shirts pumped out push-ups. Men in camouflage packed their equipment into boxes. Another knot of men listened to a squat sergeant chew them out for dawdling. "Get it done," he repeated between expletives.

All of them belonged to two Maryland National Guard green beret companies reporting yesterday for active duty to the Gunpowder Military Reservation in Glen Arm. They are the first combat units from Maryland and the first Army Guard special forces units in the country to be activated for the gulf crisis.

The company commanders of Company C, 1st Battalion, and Company B, 2nd Battalion, both of the 20th Special Forces Group, said their units will go to Fort Bragg, N.C., "shortly." They don't know whether their ultimate destination is the gulf. Those orders will come at Fort Bragg. Nor would they say how large their units are, only that a typical special forces unit has about 84 men.

Unlike other guardsmen who went on parade, talked into media microphones and allowed themselves to be photographed before being deployed to the gulf, the two special forces companies asked that their identities be kept secret. Only the two company commanders chose to identify themselves.

One of them, Maj. Steve Donnelly of Company B, said special forces feel more vulnerable because of the secrecy of their missions, which involve unconventional warfare behind enemy lines.

"If you're ever on a clandestine operation it's harder to maintain your cover story if someone's got a picture of you wearing a green beret," Donnelly said. "We can go any place in the world. TTC We're trained to infiltrate operations areas by various means."

The special forces insignia is in the shape of an Indian arrowhead, symbolic of their training to live off the land as they move, Donnelly said. Inside the arrowhead is a sword, signifying their reliance on stealth. Three bolts of lighting across the sword indicate their ability to strike by air, sea or land.

Special forces missions might include training resistance forces in enemy territory or disrupting enemy communications lines, said Maj. Jim Croall, who commands Company C.

Croall said the two companies have gone on parachute jumps at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, trained on rubber boat and scuba along the Delaware shore and spent weeks in the mountains of Montana and Utah to practice moving on skis and snowshoes.

Before activation, special forces maintain the same drill schedule as other Guard units -- one weekend a month plus 15 days. But, "it's not unusual for individuals to get together and do things on off-drill weekends," Croall said, including marches with full rucksacks.

Croall, who has spent nine years in active duty and three in the Guard, is from Frederick and works in sales for a company that sells a tire-retreading process. Donnelly, who has spent 19 years in Guard and reserve units, is from Cheverly in Prince George's County and works as a regional administrator with the federal criminal probation system.

Their troops, who are all men because of the military restriction against women serving in combat, come from Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. Donnelly said some had combat experience in Vietnam.

They reported for duty in a lime-walled gym inside a low-slung, modern concrete armory built among the bare-treed hills of Gunpowder State Park.

The flat-bellied, crew-cut soldiers working out on exercise mats were fulfilling their minimum physical training requirements, which include at least 50 push-ups in two minutes and 80 sit-ups in two minutes.

"We've anticipated this activation for several months," Croall said.

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