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Eager to help, reservists wait for call to serve

The first units could get orders to move out within the next 24 hours. Most are already preparing.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


The first units could get orders to move out within the next 24 hours. Most are already preparing.

As the nation girds for a war on terrorism, St. Petersburg resident Clifford Holensworth wants to do something to help out.

He left the Navy Reserve last September. But he was so angered by terrorist attacks against Americans on Tuesday, he did something military authorities say has become commonplace.

"I called them up to see if I can get back in," said Holensworth, a 40-year-old surgical information systems coordinator at All Children's Hospital.

He may yet get his chance.

As President Bush on Friday authorized the call-up of 50,000 reservists, thousands of citizen-soldiers across Florida and the nation waited to see if their units would be among the first to be activated, forcing them to leave job and kin to heed the call.

By late in the day, military officials had not yet identified units that will be activated. Assistant Adjutant Gen. Jimmy Watson of the Florida National Guard said activations will probably affect fewer than 500 people among all branches in Florida -- initially.

But in an e-mail to reservists, Watson didn't mince words, saying this was probably only the first wave of call-ups that will undoubtedly exceed the 50,000 Bush just authorized.

"Units needed for overseas combat operations will be activated in the weeks and months ahead," Watson wrote. "We can expect units in Florida to be activated. This is why we wear the uniform. Our country is at war and needs our skills, our dedication and our resolve."

Watson said in an interview that units likely to be affected will probably get their orders to move out within the next 24 hours. Most are already preparing.

"This isn't rocket science," he said. "They've been watching the news. So they know what's coming."

Florida military officials say reservists initially called up will more than likely provide a support role for the active military and provide services for rescue efforts in New York City.

Additionally, pilots and ground support for aircraft also may become a priority as aircraft fly patrol missions over Washington, D.C., and New York.

"We have MP units, transportation units, mail, water purification, engineers," said Capt. Chris McNair, an Alabama-based spokesman for the Army Reserve, which includes about 7,900 reservists in Florida, most with the 81st Regional Support Command, which includes reservists in Pinellas County.

"If we're called up, we're ready," he said. "I've been in the reserves for 17 years. As soon as I see bad news, I put my ears up and wait for the call."

About 1,100 men and women with the Florida National Guard in the Florida-based 125th Fighter Wing, including pilots and support personnel, also are alert to possible call-up. The Guard has 18 fighter aircraft based in Florida.

Another 9,000 members of the Florida Guard are stationed across the state.

"You won't hear a lot of military people praise war," said Guard spokesman Steve Alvarez. "But I don't think there's a sense of angst about getting called into active service. We want to assure our country gets pieced back together."

Take Navy reservist Michael Lovaglio, a 51-year-old Vietnam War veteran from Brooksville who works in a Home Depot and has his own business as a home inspector.

"I'd go today, right now," he said. "If I were to go, it would put a hurting on my business. But it's more important for the nation than my business."

- Times staff writer Bill Coats contributed to this report.

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