Sunday, September 23, 2001

Air Guard unit mobilized

Ohio wing based in Columbus

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of the 121st Air Refueling Wing scrambled to Rickenbacker Air Force Base near Columbus Saturday, after word came their unit would be the first from the state called to active duty.

        The 1,400-member unit's commander was ordered by the Pentagon Saturday to mobilize 424 Air National Guardsmen to the base for duty in Operation Infinite Justice, the planned U.S. military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    Ohio National Guard has been busy in missions abroad in last 10 years
   Since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Army and Air National Guard units have been involved in almost every military action the United States has taken:
   • 1991: 1,669 Army and Air National Guard members from Ohio were activated to support Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm — the first federal mobilization of the National Guard since World War II.
   • 1993: The 121st Air Refueling Wing — the unit activated Saturday for the war against terrorists — voluntarily participated in the U.S. military action in Somalia.
   • 1994: The 121st Air Refueling Wing, based at Rickenbacker Air Force Base near Columbus, had a busy year, volunteering for service in the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Iraq, a relief mission to Rwanda, the military action in Haiti, a return to Somalia and an action in France aimed at enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia.
   • 1995: A detachment from the 19th Special Forces Group (Chagrin Falls) was deployed to Haiti as part of the U.S. peace-keeping effort, Operation Restore Democracy.
   • 1996: 125 members of the 838th Military Police Co. (Youngstown) were on duty at military installations in Germany, freeing up other units for action in Bosnia. Part of the 74th Movement Control Unit (Columbus) was deployed to Germany and Hungary for the same operation. The 121st Air Refueling Wing again supported the Bosnian no-fly zone.
   • 1997: Twenty-six members of the 5694th Firefighting Detachment (Mansfield) were deployed to Bosnia. The Air National Guard's 251st Combat Communications Group (Springfield) was dispatched to Hungary to support the effort. The 178th fighter Wing (Springfield) and the 180th Fighter Wing (Toledo) were deployed to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to enforce the no-fly zones in Iraq. The 79th Airlift wing (Mansfield) was deployed in Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Bosnia.
   • 1998: Nine members of the 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (Columbus) were deployed to Bosnia. 121st Air Refueling Wing medical personnel were deployed to Saudi Arabia.
   • 1999: Ohio Army Guard engineers went to Nicaragua to help hurricane recovery efforts. The 180th Fighter Wing, the 123rd Air Control Squadron (Blue Ash) the 121st Air Refueling Wing, the 200th Red Horse Squadron (Port Clinton), and the 179th Airlift Wing took part in the U.S. enforcement of the no-fly zones in Iraq.
        What the men and women of the 121st don't know at this point is where they will be going and when.

        “What this means is that they are to be ready to go,” said Capt. Neal O'Brien of the Ohio National Guard's adjutant general office. “But, as of now, they have no specific orders to go anywhere.”

        If the 121st is deployed overseas, it won't be the first time for many of its veteran members.

        With two squadrons of KC-135 tanker aircraft, it is often called on for peacetime missions, refueling American aircraft in the air around the world, and sometimes in combat situations.

        Nearly any time there is a U.S. military action somewhere in the world, members of the 121st are called to action, as far back as the Berlin crisis of 1961.

        The unit was activated in the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Unit members volunteered for rotations in a number of actions since — Operation Desert Fox in Iraq in 1998, Operations Northern and Southern Watches (enforcement of the no-fly zones in Iraq) in 1999 and 2000, and the U.S. air strikes in Bosnia and the Balkans.

        In a military emergency, or when the nation declares war, National Guard units that are called up become part of the military force, answering to the military chain of command.

        In peacetime, though, guard units like the 121st are under the command of the governor of Ohio and the state's adjutant general. Members of the 121st have been called in to help in state emergencies, such tornadoes and floods, as have members of most other Army and Air National Guard units.

        The Ohio Air National Guard has several other units scattered around the state — including one in Blue Ash — that are often called to duty for U.S. air actions.

        They include the 123rd Air Control Squadron at the Blue Ash Air Station, which provides radar control to fighters and bombers, the 180th Fighter Wing stationed near Toledo and the 200th Red Horse Squadron in Port Clinton, which repairs air bases and facilities damaged by enemy attacks.

        None of those units has been called to active duty yet, but last week, Col. Norman Poklar said his 123rd Air Control Squadron was on a “heightened state of alert.”

        Ten years ago, the last time the nation went to war, 1,669 Army and Air National Guard members from Ohio were called to support Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.

        Capt. O'Brien said none of the nearly 180 Army National Guard units around the state has orders to mobilize.

        A memo sent Thursday night to Ohio congressional offices by the Air Force's congressional liaison office said that both the 424 members of the 121st Air Refueling Wing and 211 members of the Air Force Reserve stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton were about to be mobilized.

        But Saturday, Air Force officials would not coment on whether the Wright-Patterson unit had been activated.

        The command centers for Army Reserve units in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana reported Saturday that no units in the region have been called to active duty.

       Reporter Howard Wilkinson can be reached at (513) 560-1693 or by e-mail at


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