Saturday, October 12, 2002

Guard members ready to answer call

Tristate families waiting, wondering

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Wyatt family spent Friday carving Halloween pumpkins in the garage of their Independence, Ky., home.

[photo] Jeff Wyatt (left), wife Juliane and children Jared, 6, and Lauren, 12.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
Nearby, in a downstairs closet, there's a luggage bag packed with Jeff Wyatt's uniform and belongings.

As an officer in the Ohio Air National Guard, the husband and father of two young children carefully watches news developments out of Washington, D.C., and Baghdad.

As many Tristate residents are doing.

With Congress this week approving President Bush's plans for a possible military strike against Iraq — with or without U.N. support — Mr. Wyatt knows he could be gone any day. Or not for a while. He has gotten no indication either way.

He's used to the uncertainty, having been called away on as much as a month's notice, as little as 24 hours.

But throughout the region, not knowing what's going to happen next has heightened anxiety for people, whether they support an invasion or not.

“Just trust in God that he'll be OK,” Juliane Wyatt said of her husband, who was deployed in 1999 and 2000 in Kuwait, which borders Iraq. “It's very hard, but we've gotten used to this.”

It's the same for all Guard units in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

“We have not got any indication specifically that Ohio Guard units will be called if indeed the President says to go to war,” James Sims, deputy director of public affairs for the Ohio National Guard, said Friday.

“This is a new era and a new time for National Guardsmen,” he said. “We foresee our role on both the state and international level to be increased, so we're asking our airmen and soldiers to be ready, as always.“

About 2,500 Ohioans of the 15,000 serving in the Air and Army National Guard were called up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The closest Guard units to Cincinnati are the 178th Fighter Wing in Springfield and the 324th MP Company near Kettering. Both had members called up after 9-11.

“Uncertainty is the nature of the beast,” said Mr. Wyatt, 36, “so you have to be ready at all times. My gut feeling is that the U.S. and Iraq are going to reach a crisis point. It's as if this war never ended.”

That's the part that bothers Stephanie Gorman.

She's a 26-year-old flight attendant based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, having just moved from Las Vegas.

“I just think we should have done this the first time. It troubles me that we didn't get rid of Saddam Hussein the first time. He's a horrible man. He gassed his own people.”

On Friday, a Saudi official said a U.S. military attack on Iraq would result in more terrorism.

George Kreutzgans, 32, of Edgewood, Ky., is realistic about that possibility, but he cut to the key point like the ex-Marine that he is.

“Something has to be done,” he said unequivocally.

Then he motioned toward his 15-month-old daughter, Alexandra. “I'm kind of worried for her but you know,” he said, “I'm sure my parents were (worried) with me.”

Parents do worry more.

Shawn Price, 30, of Wyoming knows this. He pilots F-18s off the San Diego-based USS Nimitz.

He flies back to the West Coast on Sunday, having enjoyed the last week on leave, at home with his parents, hanging out with Erik Kellner and other friends from Wyoming High.

“For my mother and father, I'm sure they worry to death,” he said. “And I wish I could make it better. My father gets glued to the news.”


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