Volunteer Californians could be headed to East Coast for aftermath
SACRAMENTO – A contingent of mortuary specialists and chaplains left Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield early Saturday for the East Coast, the first of thousands of California reservists expecting to begin military duty in days and weeks ahead.
Thirty two specialists in the grim, but necessary job of identifying human remains flew to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, preparing to meet up with counterparts from 10 other units around the nation.
Their task: to help with what’s expected to be several thousand deaths from Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
As they departed, thousands of other Californians were packing, spending time with their loved ones and preparing to follow President Bush’s call for up to 50,000 military reservists.
“We’re all volunteers and we love our country,” said Lt. Col. William Conrad, a Modesto City Council Member and father of two who has already reported to the California National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Field in Mountain View.
Conrad is one of 21,000 California reservists attached to the state’s Army and Air Force National Guard. Another 7,500 belong to the U.S. Navy Reserves.
In San Bruno, reservist and single mother Kate MacKay recounted a conversation with her 11-year-old son, saying, “I told him I had to do it for him because this has to stop.”
President Bush is mobilizing reservists for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War, for medical support, communications, transportation and civil protection while the regular military fulfills his promise of a war against terrorists.
Military officials say it will be several days before they know who will be called up.
In Simi Valley, Steve Timbol, a police officer and National Guardsman called his commanding officer at Channel Islands Air Force Base near Oxnard on Tuesday, asking “What do you need me to do?”
Timbol is already serving as a military policeman on the base, leaving his wife, Dorina, with two children and anxieties about the future.
“Everything in my life is on hold,” she said. “You are dealing with the fear that if something happens, your kids will be without a father. To me that’s the most frightening part of it, not knowing what to expect.”
Los Angeles police officer Ken Williams, one of 663 reservists in the Los Angeles Police Department, said, “After 12 years in the military I know what it’s about. When the country needs us we gotta go. I feel bad for all the families that had people killed. It was a sad situation.”
Employers are legally bound to hold jobs open for reservists until they come home. Some companies, such as United Parcel Service and Colton-based Slater Bros. make up the difference between their workers’ military and civilian pay and continue full benefits for their families.
Slater Bros. chief Jack Brown, who counts about 200 reservists among his 13,000 employees, said, “I think the most important thing an employer can do right now is to reassure their reservists that if they are called their families will be able to maintain their lifestyle.”
In San Diego, Bill Butler a veteran of four tours in Vietnam and 30 years as a U.S. Navy reservist, said he’s ready for another assignment. “All of us have volunteered; some of us more than once. We know what is necessary, to go in harm’s way. We know our jobs. We know the risk.”
Scott McMillan of San Jose said the same before shipping out of Travis Air Force Base Saturday with his fellow mortuary specialists. McMillan, who helped after the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said, “You get images back. Smells will trigger things that will make you go back...I’m not looking forward to it, but because I’ve done it already I’m not as anxious as I was the first time.”
In Pittsburg, Air Force reservist Sean Poynter doesn’t know if he’ll be called up. But he said he hopes the American flags he sees flying stay up for a long time.
“It’s nice to know if I get called up that all Americans are out there and that all Americans support what we’re doing.”