Air Force and Air National Guard leaders said Saturday that they expect more volunteers from the Air National Guard Base at Point Mugu to rotate into positions in Europe and Saudi Arabia soon to relieve troops supporting the military buildup in the Middle East.
And if shooting begins between U.S. and Iraqi forces, the vice commander of the U.S. airlift to the Persian Gulf region expects that every medical specialist from the base near Oxnard will be called to active duty.
The top military leaders gave a glimpse of future troop movements at the official dedication ceremonies of the new $70-million Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, which shares an airstrip with the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu.
Since March, the base has been home of the 146th Tactical Airlift Wing, which moves troops and cargo short distances aboard its squadron of 16 C-130 Hercules cargo planes.
The Channel Islands base, the largest Air National Guard base in California, also has a variety of other units, including a medical tactical hospital and an evacuation team. So far, 19 volunteer nurses and medical technicians from the 146th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron have joined U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.
"We have a lot of people volunteering to go over there, and I fully expect more from this unit to go to Saudi Arabia," said Maj. Gen. Phillip Killey, national director of the Air National Guard.
Killey said that within the next month or two, he expects that C-130 planes from Channel Islands and volunteer air crews will go to Europe to relieve other volunteer National Guard crews who are filling in for active duty units now stationed in Saudi Arabia.
"Within the next month or so, we will have some of these aircraft rotating in to support that theater of operation," he said.
Neither Killey nor Air Force Lt. Gen. Anthony J. Burshnick, vice commander of the U.S. Military Airlift Command, predicted that the 1,400 members attached to the Channel Islands base would be called to active duty.
The Air National Guard and Air Force reserves make up 40% of the Air Force strength. But active-duty forces have been able to manage the massive airlift of supplies and to provide medical assistance with the help of an outpouring of volunteer reservists and Guard members.
"Right now there are sufficient medical units to meet our needs in a non-shooting war," Burshnick said. For the most part, he said, the volunteer medical specialists are handling minor medical problems.
"They are taking care of the guy who falls off a truck or slides into third base and breaks a leg," Burshnick said. "They must have all sorts of problems--sunburn, I suppose."
Should the crisis escalate, Burshnick said, the Pentagon would activate the Channel Islands medical teams. "If the shooting starts, we are probably going to need every medical reservist and National Guardsman that we've got," he said.
At Saturday's ceremonies, military brass and area officials showered the 146th Tactical Airlift Wing with praise--recognition heartily applauded by the unit with the relatively unglamorous job of hauling cargo.
Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) said that only with the Middle East crisis did he realize that the National Guard unit has other duties than helping fight brush fires by converting its cargo planes into air tankers laden with fire retardant.
"We now realize that you are not only our local heroes, but our national heroes as well," McClintock told the Guard unit.
About 700 spectators attended the dedication filled with pomp and circumstance that included a color guard and parade of 1,400 Air National Guard members marching to the beat of the Southern California Air National Guard Band.
The ceremony was remarkable in that the Air National Guard could open a new $70-million facility at a time when the Pentagon is closing dozens of other bases nationwide to save money.
Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) said he doubted that any military unit could find the money to build such a well-appointed facility with today's constraints on the Pentagon budget. He said it was lucky that the Guard decided several years ago to propose moving from its former home in Van Nuys.
During the dedication, one speaker called the new base "a showcase for the Air National Guard." Another said it was "the finest National Guard base in the country." Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi referred to it as "the Taj Mahal of bases."
All this praise brought out some good-natured, inter-service rivalry. Major Gen. Robert C. Thrasher, head of the Army National Guard in California, poked fun at the air wing.
"We call the Air National Guard 'the guys in the fur-lined foxhole,' " Thrasher told the crowd. Conspicuously looking around at the new base, he said, "This is the epitome of a fur-lined foxhole."