Like thousands of reservists called up as part of Operation Desert Shield, these 95 never got close to the desert.
In the ballyhoo surrounding the Persian Gulf troop buildup, their deployment to Germany and England got scant attention.
But their leaders say these unheralded soldiers--all volunteers--performed an important role in the gulf mission.
“The only people who realize what we were doing over there is family and such,” Dorian Guerrero, 32, said Monday after he arrived at the Channel Islands Air National Guard base near Oxnard, where the Air National Guard unit based for many years at Van Nuys Airport moved earlier this year. “The general public doesn’t realize.
“We don’t care,” he added as he gathered his bags and scanned the parking lot for his wife Terry’s car. “We’re doing what we have to to help out.”
Guerrero, an aircraft technician who lives in Oxnard, and the other reservists spent 33 days flying support missions in Europe for Operation Desert Shield and filling in for troops who had been deployed from European bases to the desert. Nearly all of the 8,000 Air National Guard members who have been activated since the crisis began are serving outside the Persian Gulf area, Maj. Michael Ritz said.
“They’re taking over the missions that units in Germany and England normally would do,” Ritz said.
Lt. Col. Al Gardner of Moorpark, mission commander for the Channel Islands contingent, said four C-130 cargo planes from the base took part in the operation, and three were in the air every day on various missions.
“They did an outstanding job, but I’m used to that,” Gardner said. “This is what we train for.”
He said more reservists from the base will almost certainly be deployed on similar missions, but could not say whether those who returned Monday will have to go back.
The 95 Air National Guard members were the second group of troops to return to Ventura County since Operation Desert Shield began. About 300 Seabees from the Naval Construction Supply Center at Port Hueneme returned home from Saudi Arabia last week, and another 300 arrived early Tuesday.
As the first of the big green C-130s returned to the Channel Islands base Monday, Pam Garnett of Ventura scanned the debarking airmen, trying to spot her husband, Warren, in the sea of green and camouflage-colored uniforms. With her were daughter Becky, 3, and son Justin, 6, who held a red balloon that said “I Love You.”
“I’ve been pretty worried,” Garnett said before her husband stepped off the last flight. Although she talked with her husband on the phone once a week, none of the letters they wrote each other got through.
“It kept me going, knowing that he was only in Germany, not the gulf,” she said. However, she added: “It has upset me just as much. We’re right on the front lines.”
Most of the reservists who returned Monday were part-time guard members before their activation but were full-time civilian employees at the Channel Islands base. So base personnel were especially glad to welcome them home.
“We know all of them,” said Dorothy Tatum-Floyd, one of a dozen people handling paperwork in the “demobilization line” that each reservist had to go through before leaving the base.
“It’s good to see them come back,” said Margarette Byars, who no doubt was a welcome sight herself. She was handing out paychecks.
The 95 reservists, who included two women, spent two weeks at the Rhine-Main Air Base in Germany and the rest of the time at Mildenhall Air Base in England. Among the duffel bags unloaded from the C-130 cargo bays were dozens of cases of English, German and Dutch beer.
“Customs says you can bring in three cases, but the commander limited us to one apiece,” one reservist said.
The flight back took three days, with overnight stays in the Azores and at Loring Air Force Base in Maine.
The last flight was piloted by Lt. Dave Bakos of Westlake Village, who climbed from behind the controls and embraced his girlfriend, Ann Strum, and parents, Tom and Susan Bakos.
“How you doing, Slick?” Tom Bakos said.
“It’s so nice to have you home,” his mother added.
Dave is the second generation of Bakoses to fly the C-130. Tom Bakos flew the big transports, as well as the F-4 fighter, during a 27-year career in the Air Force and Air National Guard.
The National Guard also is a family endeavor for the Kalvelages of Newbury Park.
John and Cathy Kalvelage were at the base Monday to welcome home their son, James, a senior airman. “We’re taking him out to dinner with a bunch of his friends,” Cathy Kalvelage said.
The family’s reunion will be brief. The day after Christmas, John Kalvelage--like his son an Air National Guard member--ships out with his aeromedical evacuation unit, probably to the gulf, he said.