Oklahoma Air National Guard activated

Saturday, October 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A unit of the Oklahoma Air National Guard was one of the first air medical troops assigned to overseas operation as the United States wages war in Afghanistan.

The specialized medical unit has been activated and sent to the Middle East for support of ground assaults.

A dozen members of the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron from the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base were deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Officials would not say when the unit was deployed, only that deployment happened within 48 hours of notification.

``We have a reputation of being well-trained and ready to go,'' said the unit's commander.

The Air National Guard unit will be part of an air evacuation team to transport injured personnel and civilians from a hostile environment to a safer area for care.

``I would speculate they would go in near the front lines of Uzbekistan and be ready to set up a MASH unit,'' retired Maj. Gen. Jerry Holmes told The Oklahoman. ``They might even provide people who go in with helicopters to airlift injured people.''

The unit includes nurses, medical technicians and radio operators. It works out of a Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility where a large tent provides a site for medical attention until airlift is available.

Holmes said the deployment signals an escalation of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

``It means ground operations are about to begin and they're preparing for casualties,'' he said.

Military officials also announced Friday that an Oklahoma security squadron was called up to provide protection at U.S. military bases. The unit, from the 137th Security Forces Squadron out of Will Rogers, will check identification cards at bases and provide additional flightline security.

The Army Reserve 95th Division, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was activated to provide basic and advanced training of soldiers and officers.

The 95th Division includes battalions from Oklahoma City, Houston and Arkadelphia, Ark. The Oklahoma and Arkansas battalions will be stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton while the Houston unit will report to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

``We expect they will be augmenting our drill sergeants,'' said Nancy Elliot, spokeswoman for Fort Sill. ``This is because of an expected increase in training.''

As Oklahoma training forces head for Fort Sam Houston, the Texas post has assigned its security team to protect the Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester.

``They will be integrated into our civilian security force,'' said Mark Hughes, spokesman for the ammunition plant. ``They will be carrying a full complement of weapons.''

Hughes said it's the first time a military unit has guarded the plant since it became an Army ammunition facility in 1977.

``They'll be here as long as necessary and not a minute longer,'' Hughes said.