Sunday, January 14, 2001

Local vets remember a time of pride and worry

By Marie McCain and Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ten years after the start of the Persian Gulf War, many Tristate residents can't forget what happened in the desert on the other side of the world.

        “I still remember it like it was yesterday,” said Charles Crocheron, 37, of College Hill.

        The former Army staff sergeant heard the news while stationed in Fort Ord, Calif. As he walked to the post's general store, another soldier told him, “The balloon has gone up.”

Charles Crocheron
Charles Crocheron
        “We were going to war,” Mr. Crocheron said. “We were in war. I got a sinking feeling inside. All the years of training — all the things we'd learned. I never thought we'd go to war. I never thought I'd participate in something like that.”

        Eight months later, while stationed at an air base in Saudi Arabia, he traded green camouflage for a sand-colored uniform that would make him difficult to spot in the desert. When he wasn't working hard to avoid Iraqi land mines, he was taking classes on Kuwaiti etiquette and culture.

        As wars go, it was novel: battles as live television. Transfixed viewers watched the whole thing unfold — missiles flying and exploding, bombed-out people crying and foreign correspondents speculating on the flickering screen.

        Tom Stone, of Blue Ash, couldn't bring himself to watch television much on Jan. 17, 1991. News broadcasts featuring infrared pictures of missiles landing on Iraq disturbed him too much.

        He assumed that the Iraqis were aiming their missiles at his then-30-year-old son, Tom Jr., a Marine captain who piloted a Super Cobra attack helicopter equipped with rockets and machine guns. Tom Jr. was a part of the allied contingent conducting the first-day air strikes over Iraq.

        “It was too realistic,” said Mr. Stone, a 66-year-old General Electric retiree. ""(The broadcasters) tried to make it into a big game — like watching the Super Bowl. I got to the point where I couldn't watch anymore. People would tape the broadcasts for me, and I still have those tapes. But I've never watched them.”

        Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm involved more than 700,000 U.S. troops, including 2,694 soldiers from the Ohio National Guard and reserves.

        Meanwhile, nine units and about 1,400 soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard were deployed to the Gulf for Desert Storm, though no units were from the northern Kentucky area. Likewise, no units in southeastern Indiana were deployed.

        Master Sgt. Tim Taylor, 40, of New Carlisle, volunteered to go.

        “It wasn't a hard decision,” he said. “To serve was instilled in me. It's my duty. It was a great opportunity to prove that my unit (269th Combat Communications Squadron) could hold its own.”

        In this area, Air National Guard units activated included the 251st Combat Communications Group and 269th Combat Communications Squadron, both of Blue Ash, and the 178th Fighter Group, in Springfield. “Many of them filled backup roles,” said Denise Varner of the Ohio Adjutant General's office in Columbus.

        The 324th Military Police, based in Youngstown then but now in Middletown, was called up Jan. 3, 1991. After 30 days of training, the unit arrived in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 15, just before the ground war started.

        “We knew we were going to get called up,” said 1st Sgt. Edward Swaney, 46, of Middletown. “At first, we started as a guard escort company. Almost immediately we moved out and prepared to pick up prisoners of war — 2,000 to 2,500 at a time, with only 40 MPs to watch them.

        When the fighting ended, the unit's military police became “quick customs agents. We made sure that people didn't send back what they weren't supposed to send back,” he said.

        The unit didn't leave until Memorial Day.

        Fortunately, the war left no lasting impact on his life, Sgt. Swaney said.

        “But it did teach me something about our country and my fellow soldiers,” he said. “It made everyone proud of the citizen soldier. Our unit responded well to the call.”

        Staff Sgt. Tammi Daugherty, now 33 and a 15-year veteran of the unit, served in the 324th. She was licensed to drive a five-ton truck, so her commander ordered her to transport prisoners.

        “It wasn't hard to deal with them,” she said. “We had guns and they didn't. Besides, they were starving to death. But they weren't used to seeing females in the army, especially ones driving trucks.”

        The Ross native said she is lucky that the war did not affect her health or life, as it did for many veterans who suffer from mysterious ailments.

        “I was single then, which made it easier for me,” she said. “But there's still that threat (of war). In fact, that's my biggest concern. I'm married now and just had a baby. It would be hard to go through it again, to give that commitment. I don't know how some of the single parents did it.”

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