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Air guard deployed

March 06, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

They took off their coats or rolled up their sleeves as they talked about the warm weather, an innocent diversion from the real matter at hand.

As they chatted Wednesday afternoon, though, the family members who gathered at the Air National Guard base in Martinsburg rarely took their eyes off two C-130 planes nearby.

Carrying husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, the planes transported about 50 members of the 167th Airlift Wing to an unspecified destination in southwest Asia. Another 50 men and women will join them today.

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They could be gone for a year or more.

"I'm a little anxious right now, but I'm definitely willing to go," said 1st Lt. Eric Widmeyer, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Widmeyer is also a West Virginia State Police trooper.

"I'm proud to serve," he said.

Widmeyer went overseas last summer, and recently returned from a deployment to Puerto Rico.

His wife, Angie, was one of the many who kept her eyes locked on the C-130s.

"I think he's been gone just as much as he's been here," Angie Widmeyer said. "You miss him while he's gone. You just wait and wait and wait."

Eric Widmeyer's mother, Edna, has been through the drill before. Her husband is in the Guard, and Eric Widmeyer's brother is a former Guard member, she said.

"You know it's coming but you still hope it doesn't come," she said.

About an hour after she spoke, the C-130 carrying Eric Widmeyer took off, becoming smaller and smaller until it disappeared from sight into a steel gray cloud.

Angie Widmeyer said she was proud of her husband, but other emotions are harder to describe. "You just can't explain how you feel. It's like a part of you is gone," she said.

Before they took off, members of the 167th got a quick common sense briefing from Master Sgt. Mike Eshbaugh.

Eshbaugh told the Guard members they are heading to an arid, subtropical climate where temperatures can reach 130 degrees. November to March is the rainy season, he said.

He warned them about poisonous snakes and insects, and advised them not to stick their hands in dark holes and crevices.

Food should come only from U.S. sources, he said, and food meant to be hot should be piping hot, while cold foods should not be eaten warm.

"Drink only bottled water that you can break the seal on," he said. "Avoid milk and milk products."

Hygiene is important, he said. "Keep your feet dry. Change your undergarments," he said. "And I don't mean once a week."

Carnal temptations should be curbed, he said.

"Avoid sexual contact," Eshbaugh said. "Wherever there's a military presence you'll find them (prostitutes). Wherever you find them you'll find diseases."

Holding up a bag containing a nerve agent antidote kit, Eshbaugh detailed what was inside and how to use the vials.

"I would ask you to please use the buddy system while you're there. Keep an eye on one another for signs of heat stress," he said. Eshbaugh added before he ended his speech: "On a very personal note, I want you to know that we're praying for you. God speed."

First Sgt. Bill Matthew, of Frederick, Md., said morale was high among the troops. Formerly a part of Desert Storm, Matthew has been to Germany and went to the Middle East last spring.

"Having been over there and done this thing a couple of times before, I kind of know what my job is and what my responsibilities are, which makes it a lot better," Matthew said. "Sometimes the unknown is really what plays on people."

Matthew's young son, Jacob, stood off to the side, watching as his father was interviewed. He looked stonily ahead, trying not to cry. "It's OK, you can cry. Your daddy's going to cry, too," a woman told the boy.

William Matthew Sr. was on hand to watch his son deploy. He spoke of those who oppose using military force in Iraq.

"I just wish some of these protesters could realize what's going on, what these people are doing. They're here defending us and the protesters, too," Matthew Sr. said.

Asked for his thoughts about war opposition, Sgt. Matthew was diplomatic.

"One of the things with being a military member is we support the right. People have their own opinions. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. That's what America is about," Matthew said. "They have their beliefs and I have mine."

The C-130s were set to stop first at Lajes, a city on one of the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Their second stop was to be in Crete.

"I can't tell you where the third stop is," Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver said.

Along with the 100 Guard members heading to southwest Asia, another 100 or so are heading to Puerto Rico. Half of those bound for Puerto Rico left early Wednesday, and the rest will leave Saturday.

Along with Wednesday's afternoon flight, the remainder of the Guard members heading to Asia will leave today, Sencindiver said.

In Puerto Rico, the men and women will support Operation Coronet Oak, flying support missions throughout Central and South America.

Those heading to southwest Asia will support U.S. troops, Sencindiver said.

As the minutes with their families wound down, Guard members hugged loved ones tightly, and posed for pictures.

After holding his wife, Beth, and kissing his 11-month-old daughter Morgan, James Domenico put on his floppy desert hat, grabbed a sleeping bag and a piece of luggage and boarded a bus to be taken to a C-130, which was idling a couple of hundred yards away. A full-time Guard member, James Domenico has never been activated before, his wife said.

After her husband boarded the plane, which would not take off for another hour or so, Beth Domenico held her daughter.

"It'll be hard. As long as we know where they are and that they're OK, it'll be fine," said Beth Domenico, who has been married to James for nearly three years.

The couple lives in Falling Waters, W.Va., and met while playing volleyball. Both are coaches at Hagerstown Community College.

"He has a lot to come back to," Beth Domenico said.

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