Peacekeepers return from Bosnia 'There's no glory in hurting people' says guardsman

March 10, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The peacekeeping mission lived up to its name: the Maryland fighter pilots who flew over the frozen killing-fields of Bosnia never fired a shot.

For that, the pilots and their families gave thanks last night, as the two-month "Operation Decisive Edge" ended for about 600 members of the Maryland National Guard's 175th Air Wing.

Minutes after a dozen A-10 Thunderbolt II jets and two C-130Es roared onto a runway at Martin State Airport in Middle River, guardsmen and their families expressed their relief with long embraces, a few tears, and prayers of thanks.

"It's great to be able to show a miliary presence without having to resort to squeezing that trigger," said Lt. Col. Ron Henry, a 49-year-old fighter pilot and full-time guardsman from Timonium. "It's a rare pleasure, honestly, to do the job without hurting anybody. There's no glory in hurting people."

Just after he landed the low-slung gray A-10, Colonel Henry's wife, Andrea, two of his daughters and his aunt pointed.

"There it is! There it is -- the fourth plane down," said his daughter, Virginia, 22.

"It is time for a good steak dinner. This is what they train for -- to keep from fighting -- so he did his job," Mrs. Henry said. "

The Thunderbolts had been based in Aviano, Italy, a 45-minute flight from Bosnia. Most members of the 175th served stints of three to four weeks there, then rotated home.

The members of the 175th returning this weekend, the last contingent of the 600 sent to Italy, included the dozen fighter pilots who flew the attack jets and about 40 support personnel.

Another 150 members of the unit, snowbound in Iceland, are to return today or tomorrow, said Col. Ron Ball, operations group commander.

The presence of the A-10s,or "Warthogs" -- designed for low-level daytime air patrol -- apparently helped quell Serbian troops.

"Warthogs" were made in the 1970s and early 1980s by Fairchild Republic at a now-defunct plant in Hagerstown. The aircraft was nearly retired in the late 1980s but gained renewed prominence during the Persian Gulf war. A-10s are versatile solo fighters loaded with missiles, rockets, and a 30 mm gun that fires 70 rounds a second and is particularly effective against tanks.

The Maryland pilots flew more than 300 day and night sorties for a total of 1,030 combat hours.

Members of the unit pointed out that fighting in war-torn Bosnia is historically slow during the region's savage winters. But the absence of any confrontations, they said, also proved the NATO peacekeeping effort had been successful.

"On many occasions, we had aircraft overhead with direct communication with waring factions," said Maj. Ken McCauley, squadron operations officer for the 175th.

"Our presence helped prevent these minor confrontations from developing into serious hostilities."

Capt. Ed Jones of Bel Air agreed.

"I've been to Bosnia three times in the past two years flying peacekeeping missions," he said. "But this is the first time the country really seems to be at peace. The NATO presence is really making a difference."

Even from the air though, the toll of war could clearly be seen.

"Bosnia, when you see it from the air, is really such a beautiful country," said Maj. David Tanaka, a pilot from Abingdon. "And it's really kind of a shame that all this is going on down there. You can see the beauty and then how decimated some of the towns are. You could see shells of buildings with their roofs torn off," he said.

The 175th worked with two other state military units -- the 55th Signal Company, an army unit from Fort Meade, and the 29th Mobil Public Affairs Detachment of the Maryland National Guard. They remain in Bosnia.

In August 1994, while the Maryland wing served under the command of the United Nations, two A-10 pilots from Maryland's 175th unit wiped out a Bosnian Serb anti-tank emplacement.

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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