Thursday, September 20, 2001

Guard ready to rumble

Unit in Blue Ash prepares for U.S. military action

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — They don't know where and they don't know when, but the 123rd Air Control Squadron in Blue Ash is ready to roll into action. They're ready, because they've done it many times before.

        “Whatever the U.S. response ends up being, if there are aircraft in the air, we'll probably be there,” said Col. Norman Poklar, commander of the 130-member unit of the Ohio Air National Guard.

        The 123rd provides radar control for fighter and bomber squadrons, giving them complete radar “maps” of battle areas, including what enemy aircraft are on the wing.

        If the retaliatory action the U.S. military is planning in response to last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington involves air strikes, the 123rd Air Control Squadron almost certainly will be there.

        They were there during Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf a decade ago. Only 21 months ago, about half of the unit based at the Blue Ash Air Station went to Kuwait for a five-month stint in desert outposts, supporting the Air Force with 24-hour surveillance of the skies as U.S. fighters enforced the “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq.

        “We have a lot of people who have been there before; they know what to do,” Col. Poklar said. “We've trained as hard as anybody. And everybody here wants to be a part of this.”

        Col. Poklar said the unit is on a heightened state of alert, which means the order to go into action could come any minute.

        Sgt. Jeffrey Wyatt of Independence, one of the 30 full-time guardsmen assigned to the unit, said it won't be difficult getting them to move.

        “We don't have to tell the people in this unit anything,” Sgt. Wyatt said. “They already know what to do.”

        “A lot of our people are young folks with young kids,” said Col. Poklar, who lives in Mt. Orab.

        “We make sure they have taken care of business at home, so they can concentrate on the task ahead. Some have to make wills or pay bills, transfer power of attorney or just do simple things like putting anti-freeze in the family car and replacing the windshield wipers.”

        Some, Col. Poklar said, are attending college on the benefits package they received when they signed up for the Ohio National Guard.

        “These are young people who signed up to get the benefits, yes, but the real reason is they love this country and they want to serve,” he said.

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