By Nicholas Geranios
SPOKANE — Washington Air National Guard pilots, particularly those who work for United and American airlines, are eager to strike back at the terrorists who turned four airliners into flying bombs last week.
But there are no plans now to call up any National Guard units from this state, even though President Bush has announced that up to 50,000 reservists will be activated nationwide.
"Right now, the Washington National Guard has not been called up," said Spec. Charles Ames, a public affairs officer for the guard at Camp Murray.
That status could change overnight with little notice, Ames said.
There are 7,800 members of the guard in the state, with 2,300 of them in the Air Guard, Ames said. They are scattered in units across the state.
One of the largest units is the 141st Air Refueling Wing, based at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane. The wing has 900 members who operate KC-135 air tankers, which are used to refuel warplanes in flight.
The unit includes numerous pilots employed by United and American, whose planes were hijacked and deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week.
"Our airline pilots are champing at the bit," said Col. Jim Wynne, wing commander. "These pilots are taking this very personally."
The 141st was called to active duty in Desert Storm in 1991 and to support peacekeeping in Kosovo in 1999.
Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, said guard units from Anacortes to Yakima are ready to answer the call.
"The Washington National Guard is prepared to go anywhere and pay any price to execute our federal and state missions," Lowenberg said this week.
John Harrington of East Wenatchee is a major with the Army’s 448th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Lewis. He believes his unit is more likely to be activated soon than the combat units.
Harrington, 39, said Monday that members of the battalion were contacted to determine their whereabouts.
"We accept the fact that we’re probably going be called up," said Harrington, a public works chief for the battalion.
During the Persian Gulf War, a Yakima-based Guard unit found itself at the point of the first U.S. attack into Iraq.
In one battle, Bravo Company wiped out an Iraqi tank battalion, destroying 34 of 35 top-of-the-line Russian T-72 tanks. The company also brought home a captured Iraqi tank to Yakima as a prize.
Bush has authorized activating up to 50,000 reservists and National Guard troops to protect military installations and to help with recovery of victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon strikes.
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