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AIR BASE PREPARED FOR DUTY

They're bankers, teachers, airline pilots and students -- men and women from all walks of life who live in the Buffalo Niagara region.

And Monday they were on high alert at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, waiting to be called to active duty along with 50,000 reservists and members of the National Guard across America.

The call-up is expected within days, and more than 2,000 airmen and women at the base could be on active duty for up to two years, Pentagon officials have said.

"These men and women have left their families and their jobs," said Col. James Kwiatkowski, commander of the 107th Air Refueling Wing here. "That's the fantastic part about this entire mission, and I couldn't be prouder of them."

A number of reservists who normally report only on weekends have been asked to reside there indefinitely, said Kwiatkowski. The others can come and go as they please but remain on alert.

Both Kwiatkowski and Col. Wade Farris, commander of the 914th Airlift Wing, said they have flown missions in the past week, but could not elaborate.

"We're not in a position to say some things because of security reasons," said Neil E. Nolf, public affairs officer at the base.

Planes continued to take off from the air base Monday, but officials could not comment other than to say they were "on classified missions."

Security at the base Monday remained at the highest threat level since the Persian Gulf War 10 years ago.

At the main gate on Lockport Road, vehicles are being thoroughly searched by soldiers with M-16 rifles. Even Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, wasn't exempt from a search Monday.

"They searched my vehicle too," said LaFalce. "That's what the alert status is here."

Reporters were asked not to interview the reservists or divulge their identities "to ensure the protection of our force," Nolf said.

"I want the reservists to know how important they are to the security of the United States," LaFalce said in a hangar housing two huge C-130 cargo planes. "We need to infiltrate the ranks of terrorists and eradicate them from our society, and we couldn't do it without you."

LaFalce said whatever the air base needs to accomplish its mission, the U.S. government will provide.

"We're mobilized. Our men and women are ready, willing and able," said Kwiatkowski, as a KC-135 air refueling Stratotanker rolled down the runway and lifted off on a classified mission.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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