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Oklahoma Department of the Reserve Officers Association


AWACS reservists called up for 2nd year

2002-09-27 By Bryan Dean The Oklahoman
More than 200 AWACS reservists stationed at Tinker Air Force Base are the first reserve unit since the Korean War to be called to active duty for two consecutive years.

The 513th Air Control Group, which flies Advanced Warning and Control Systems E-3 jets, was recently notified it will remain active for a second year, Lt. Col. Roberta Smith said Thursday.

"They have been mobilized, recalled to active duty since September 2001," Smith said. "Normally it's for one year. This is somewhat unprecedented for it to go on for a second year."

The 231 members of the 513th have been away from their civilian jobs and civilian lives for more than 12 months. Many don't know if those lives will be the same when they get back.

"People who were probably hoping to go home are going to stay here, but they are not complaining at all," Smith said.

Members of the 513th talked Thursday about the call-up. They asked that their last names not be revealed for security reasons.

Lt. Col. Lee of Oklahoma City worked as a pilot for United Airlines. He was on call in Denver on Sept. 11, 2001, waiting to fill in if another pilot was sick or could not make a flight for any reason.

"When I saw the buildings come down, I started packing my bags," Lee said. "I left the next morning. I made a phone call from my cell phone as I was driving to Oklahoma City. I called up the company and told them I was on indefinite military leave and would call them when I could come back."

He hasn't called back.

"When I came down here and found out how long it was going to be and how big it was, I sent them a copy of my orders," Lee said. "I still have a job with them. I have not been furloughed. If we were to deactivate tomorrow, I would go back and work for them."

The AWACS fliers said their employers have been understanding and their families have adjusted to their absence. AWACS provide command and control of the skies and are among the first units to deploy in time of war. The 513th is the only AWACS reserve unit.

1st Lt. Jim of Choctaw said he is proud to help with the war on terrorism.

"There is a sense of duty," Jim said. "If we didn't believe in what we were doing, we wouldn't be here in the first place. When I get up in the morning, I can look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You are making a difference in the world.' That makes a huge difference. It makes it a lot easier for me to say goodbye to my wife and head overseas for 45 or 50 days at a time."

Many have had to make sacrifices since the activation.

Master Sgt. Lamond of Oklahoma City has a wife and 3- year-old daughter.

"Life is a little difficult at times," Lamond said. "My wife used to be in AWACS. She was active duty for seven years. She totally understands what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. My 3-year-old, sometimes she doesn't understand that daddy's gone away. She thinks daddy's on a trip."

Lamond and his wife have made adjustments to keep their daughter from missing her father as much. She spends time with her grandparents when her father is deployed overseas.

The 513th has flown missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch in Iraq and Operation Noble Eagle in the United States.

The unit usually spends 45 days overseas, then returns to Tinker for 45 days before being deployed again. The rotation is subject to change at any time.

Jim said he and his wife have put off having children because of the activation.

"I've also had to put off finishing my master's degree," Jim said. "People are putting off starting a family. The employers so far have been great as far as understanding that we are citizen warriors, and our country has called and we need to do our job."

Even if employers do understand, they face challenges of their own. United has told Lee he still has a job, but the company's financial problems make him cautious. Lee said the terrorist attacks have changed every facet of his life.

"I got it on both ends," Lee said. "I don't know that I'll have a job to go back to when we get deactivated. I just have a blank wall out there 12 months from now, and every time I think about it, it just frustrates me. ... I try to concentrate on what's going on today and with this job here."

Many of the reservists hoped to return to their civilian lives this fall. Now that they know those plans have been put on hold for another year, they said they are ready to do the job at hand.

Staff Sgt. Clifford of Fort Myers, Fla., has already taken a year off from college, but he said he doesn't mind that his degree will have to wait.

"You get the orders, you show up and you do the mission," Clifford said. "There's only one AWACS reserve unit, and we're it. If they need us for the mission, then let's get the job done."
FROM: Daily Oklahoman, 27SEP02