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Alert goes out to Guard units across Florida

About 250 troops, including about 100 from units in Hernando County, hear that active duty may be near.

Published November 8, 2003

Black Hawk helicopter pilot Chris Tenaro, a husband and father of five, has been awaiting the word.

This week, it arrived for the 40-year-old Hernando County resident.

Tenaro is among roughly 250 Florida National Guard troops notified they could soon see service in Iraq and Kuwait, state guard spokesman Lt. Col. Ron Tittle said Friday. The "alert" status is a prelude to actually being called to duty.

"We have kind of been counting on this in the back of our minds," Tenaro said. "We are just going to do our duty."

The announcement came a day after the Pentagon unveiled plans to send 85,000 new Army and Marine combat forces to Iraq to replace soldiers ending one-year tours. It will be the largest series of troop rotations since World War II.

The Pentagon plan also calls for alerting some 43,000 National Guard and Army Reserve troops that they too may be sent to Iraq. The number of Army Reserve soldiers affected in Florida is unknown at this time, though none of the units that have been tapped are in the Tampa Bay area.

Tenaro's unit, the 171st Aviation Battalion Support Group, and the 171st Aviation Company H are based in Brooksville. Both units, with a combined membership of about 100 people and eight Black Hawks, are affected by the alert. Tenaro said members of the two units live throughout the bay area.

According to guard spokesman Tittle, one Florida unit, communication specialists based in Crestview, has been mobilized. The unit's 96 members are to report for duty Dec. 15 and could be in Iraq or Kuwait within weeks.

In addition to the two Brooksville guard units already mentioned, the 53rd Area Support Group based in Homestead and the 153rd Finance Company out of St. Augustine have also been put on alert.

"It's just to stand by, basically," Tittle said. "It gives a chance for the commanders to say, "Yeah, this is serious,' and ensure the readiness status of their people."

Tenaro, who has spent 21 years in the National Guard, is a chief warrant officer and the lead Black Hawk flying instructor for his unit's Bravo Company.

While recognizing that some disagree with him, Tenaro said a successful resolution to the military campaign is critical to ensure Iraqis "experience freedom" and to end the terrorist threat to America.

His older children - Tenaro's five kids range in age from 4 to 16 - understand that he and fellow guard members are being called to serve, Tenaro said. All the younger children understand, he said, is that their father may be leaving.

Since the war began, at least two Black Hawk helicopters have been shot down in Iraq. On Friday, another Black Hawk crashed near the Tigris River, killing six. Witnesses said the helicopter had been shot down; American investigators were trying to determing the cause of the crash.

Faced with the prospect of combat, Tenaro said fear is unavoidable. So he works to not dwell on the fear.

"I'm responsible for training all of our pilots," he said. "I focus on that to ensure that they are ready."

Republican U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, who knows Tenaro, said he and other Guard members who may go to Iraq face an elusive and determined enemy: Saddam Hussein loyalists.

"These soldiers will certainly be in harm's way," Brown-Waite said. "And we should certainly pray for them."

- The Associated Press and Times researcher Kathy Wos contributed to this report.

[Last modified November 8, 2003, 01:47:02]

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