Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Call-up order may be today

Reservists include units from area

The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Enquirer news services

        WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary William Cohen is expected to announce today the call-up of thousands of military reservists to assist in the NATO air war on Yugoslavia.

        Officials have said President Clinton was expected to order the call-up of about 33,000, mainly from the Air National Guard.

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        NATO announced Monday that U.S. Army Apache helicopters are ready for action against Serb forces in Kosovo — risky combat missions that heighten the risk of more servicemen being captured. The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it was sending 30 more aerial refueling tankers to the region to boost allied air strikes that have been severely hampered by bad weather.

        Also Monday a Red Cross official met briefly Monday with three U.S. soldiers held captive by the Serbs, and was promised a longer meeting today that would include a medical examination.

        “I was able to talk to them only a few minutes,” Cornelio Sommaruga said at news conference. “We looked into each others eyes and shook hands very warmly.”

        The 30 tanker aircraft being dispatched to the region are what Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon called a “down pay ment” on the addition of 300 support and combat planes to a mission already encompassing more than 600 U.S. aircraft. Some of those tankers will be from Guard and Reserve units.

        Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald said 23 Apache helicopters with 33 support helicopters, and 18 ground-based multiple-launch rocket systems — a total force of 3,400 soldiers — are ready for action at the call of NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark. The helicopters have been deployed to sites north of Tirana, Albania, within striking distance of Kosovo.

        The call-up would be the largest since more than 200,000 reservists were activated in 1990 during the Per sian Gulf War.

        Some Ohio National Guard air units are likely to be called up, Adjutant General John Smith said.

        In this part of Ohio, the 123rd Air Control Squadron, and the 178th Tactical Fighter Group in Springfield “have the most likelihood of being called up,” said Capt. Neal O'Brien of the Adjutant General's office in Columbus. “I'd think that the 123rd is a primary unit that could be called up.”

        The 123rd is authorized at 130 members; the 178th, at 900.

        Capt. Denise Varner, of the adjutant's office, said the 123rd is more likely to be called up than the 178th, because the 178th's duties have changed to a training unit for F-16s.

        “But there's always the possibility that certain members of the 178th could be called up,” she said.

        Capt. Varner said all Guard members are mentally preparing themselves.

        Maj. Norm Poklar of the 123rd said he hadn't received additional equipment as of Monday evening. “We're fully capable now, but the new equipment will make us more desirable for such duty,” he said.

        The Pentagon said it would stagger the call-up in phases, to avoid too great a disruption across the country.

        “We try to be as accurate as possible so we don't have all the reservists hanging by a thread worrying whether they will be next,” said Col. Richard Bridges, a Defense Department spokesman.

        The suspense didn't bother Sgt. Dennis Koeninger, 43, a Villa Hills, Ky., resident and one of 30 full-time members of the 123rd. The father of two children, ages 7 and 10, said he doesn't even think about the possibility of being activated.

        “My wife is more concerned,” he said. “But it's a part of the job. It's harder on the younger ones.”

        The 123rd's headquarters, a one-story, cream-colored building with a Corsair jet fighter hanging in front, sits among buildings in office complexes on McKinley Road. Guard members assemble there to train and practice.

        “We're proud professionals of a premier unit,” Maj. Poklar said. “We have a diverse group of professionals — computer experts, engineers and even 10 firefighters and police officers. If they're called up, it would have a drastic impact on the people and on the companies they work for. But most of the companies realize the importance of the work, and they cooperate with time off.”

        Until this week, the Air Force was able to rely on volunteer reservists to provide the crews needed for the air operations.

        Today, the Red Cross' Sommaruga is planning a return trip to visit the American captives — Spc. Steven Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas; Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; and Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Mich..

        Mr. Sommaruga, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was allowed to see the soldiers before a meeting with Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade.

        Until Monday, Mr. Milosevic had denied Red Cross access to the soldiers, who were captured March 31 as they patrolled the Macedonia-Kosovo border as part of a NATO unit stationed in Macedonia. They were captured in the early days of the NATO air campaign against Mr. Milosevic's Serb forces operating in Kosovo.

        Although the Red Cross chief had not been given advance notice that he could see the soldiers, he clearly was prepared. A spokesman for the International Red Cross, based in Switzerland, said Mr. Sommaruga gave the POWs letters from their families.

        Both Red Cross and U.S. officials noted, however, that Monday's meeting did not fulfill the Geneva War Conventions governing prisoners of war.

        To comply with those rules, Red Cross doctors must be allowed to give the soldiers a quick medical exam. Furthermore, Red Cross officials must be permitted to interview the soldiers without Yugoslav officials present.

        The spokesman said that Mr. Sommaruga had been assured that he could return today and conduct a visit with the soldiers that complied with the Geneva rules.

        The New York Times, the Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.


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