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Maryland National Guard helps keep peace in Sinai

April 02, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

Those who thought it would be fun in the sun find the routine deadly dull. Those who thought it would be desolate and rough are finding unexpected comforts.

"Believe it or not, I love it," said Sgt. Lloyd Roosa, 24, of Rising Sun.

JTC He left his job as a chef at Woody's, a restaurant in Cecil County, because he missed the military life.

"I like getting out in the field. To me, it's a sense of adventure."

The South Camp, base for most of the U.S. forces, is situated next to Sharm el-Sheikh, a premier scuba

diving spot on the Red Sea and a favorite resort of Europeans.

The soldiers can go there when off duty.

They live in roomy bunkhouses. Soldiers can take military courses by closed-circuit TV to Rome, rent books and videos from the camp library, or work out in the weight rooms.

Every evening there is basketball, volleyball and softball.

"It's not too bad. But I'm dying for a Big Mac," said Spc. Hans-Peter Eckert, 22, of Severna Park.

He volunteered to earn money for college and was assigned to be a lifeguard on the soldiers' beach.

The worst weather is yet to come. The noon sun now is sharp, but evenings still are comfortable and nights deliciously cool.

By the time the reservists leave in July, the temperature will soar each day above 100 degrees, and the motionless air will be a freeway for flies.

The infantrymen serve three-week shifts at one or another of the several "remote" posts, many of them on barren hillsides with stark desert all around.

But even here the soldiers live in air-conditioned trailers, with wall lockers and, in some, rugs on the floors. The kitchens include deep freezers, refrigerators and stoves.

"I expected total isolation," said Maj. Kim Packer, 31, the force dental surgeon, who arrived with the guardsmen but will serve a year here on active duty.

Like most of the 112 women in the MFO, she is at the northern support headquarters base of El Gorah, close to the Mediterranean Sea.

Expecting the worst

"I just prepared for the worst," said the major, from Kingsville in Baltimore County.

"Then I got here, and I found it's not as bad as I expected. We have plenty of amenities, and what we don't have is only a mail package away."

The mix of volunteers and guardsmen has made an unusual battalion. Almost two-thirds of the men are single, many of them students. But it also includes men in their 40s and 50s, older than most Army infantrymen.

There are 87 college graduates -- three with master's degrees and five with post-master's.

Unusual mix

"You usually don't have people who are lawyers, or who own their own computer stores or catering stores, in an infantry division," said Maj. William Greenberg, who helped organize the battalion.

Since it began work in 1982, the MFO has witnessed no hostile action.

Almost all of the intrusions have been accidental ones: a tank making a wrong turn across an invisible sector line, a jet pilot turning a few seconds too late and crossing into the wrong

airspace.

No MFO soldiers have been hurt in aggression.

Vehicle accidents and sports injuries give the camp doctors most of their patients.

MFO officials defend the usefulness of the force. They note the yearly U.S. cost of the peacekeeping is less than the price of, say, one F-16 fighter plane.

"Isn't it better to have a peacekeeping force sitting peacefully than in action?" asked Michael Sternberg, a civilian official of the MFO office in Tel Aviv.

Treaty established MFO

Unlike most peacekeeping forces that operate under the United Nations, the MFO is written into the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Unless the two countries agree to change the terms of their treaty, the MFO is obligated to stay.

Sergeant Sealover, who helped train the guardsmen, admits to some reservations about the necessity of the job.

"I thought it was a real important mission. But maybe [the MFO] has outlived its usefulness," he said.

"When they start building resort hotels on the beach, I think it's clear they want peace.

"We're sitting on prime real estate," he noted.

"Maybe in the future they won't want us around. And that's a good thing."

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