Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Guardsmen come home today


Blue Ash unit served in Kuwait

BY LEW MOORES
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — Their tour of duty over, about 75 Ohio Air National Guardsmen are due back at their base here tonight, returning to family, friends and for some of them, civilian jobs, after spending nearly four months in Kuwait.

        The 123rd Air Control Squadron headed out to Kuwait and the Ali Al Salem base on Dec. 12, after many of them spent early holidays with family and friends.

        “It went fine with everything I heard,” said Maj. Ann Coghlin, Blue Ash base spokeswoman. “But they are definitely ready to get back home to family and friends. They did a great job.”

        Most of the 75 members of the guard unit — which included about 25 full-time guardsmen — spent their four months at Ali Al Salem base, near the Iraqi border in northern Kuwait.

        The rest of the unit was made up of traditional guardsmen, who ordinarily commit to duty one weekend a month and 15 additional days a year.

        Maj. Coghlin said the unit did basic radar and communications tasks, coordinated midair refueling of planes and conducted surveillance in the no-fly zones.

        Beverly Koeninger, the wife of Master Sgt. Dennis Koeninger, a full-time guardsman, said she has stayed in touch with her husband on a regular basis since he left for Kuwait; they spoke by phone about twice a week, and e-mailed each other every day.

        “It's still not the same as him being here,” Ms. Koeninger said. “But at least we had ways to make sure he knew about all the little things that happened.”

        Especially important to Sgt. Koeninger, said his wife, was keeping him abreast of how their two children — Elyse, 11, and Kristen, 8 — were doing.

        “He enjoyed hearing all of those details, every little thing that happened to the kids,” said Ms. Koeninger, of Villa Hills. “I know it really helped him feel like he was still a big part of our lives.”

        Ms. Koeninger said the unit lived in modular housing, with air conditioning and flooring. They complained of the food, yet she said her husband put on 5 pounds anyway.

        The sergeant also told her about the sandstorms, which were hellish, and bad thunderstorms in the desert.

        “I know he's tired of sand,” Ms. Koeninger said. “I don't think I could get him to the beach this summer.”

        Maj. Coghlin said the Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars supplied the unit with calling cards, and employers of those with jobs sent regular care packages to the unit. Spouses also regularly sent a newsletter they put together, electronically and by mail.

        The unit did have access as well to television and videocassette recorders, as well as an exercise area, Maj. Coghlin said.

        The unit was called up under a presidential order that allows reserve forces to be called to active duty.

        Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, military forces have been enforcing a southern no-fly zone over Iraq.

       



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