Area sailors involved in Navy exercise near Korea

December 9, 2010 2:53:16 PM PST
A Chinese diplomat was in North Korea Thursday trying to ease tension in the region. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is expected to travel there next week.

The diplomatic effort is taking place while the United States and Japan are conducting a massive military exercise in the region. ABC7's Stacey Baca reports sailors from the Chicago area are part of the exercise called Keen Sword.

Keen Sword is the world's largest military exercise between two countries this year, according to the U.S. Navy. It's taking place near Japan and the Korean peninsula: 60 ships and 17,000 people.

Although the exercise has been planned for a year, the timing, with escalating tension between North and South Korea, gives countries in that region a chance to see the military might.

Chicago-area sailors like Matthew Ziarko, Ryan Pommier and Kelly Lott are at the tip of the sword.

Lt. Pommier, of Plainfield, is a physical therapist onboard the Aircraft Carrier George Washington and understands the timing and significance of this military exercise.

"We're working with the Japanese, South Koreans, all of our partners," said Pommier. "If anything goes down, we're ready. Hopefully it doesn't, hopefully nothing happens...but we're ready if it does."

The exercise comes after North Korea bombed a South Korean island last month, killing four people.

With the tension as a backdrop, military members, like Airman Kelly Lott of Algonquin, stay focused on the day-to-day duties.

"It's a normal day to day operation," Lott said. "We are excited to be part of it. We're honored. But we still carry out everyday just as normal as any other day."

While sailors work, their families worry, like the parents of Matthew Ziarko of Chicago. He's onboard the USS Lassen, which is also part of Keen Sword.

"I hope we don't go to war...I try not to think about it because of the type of ship he's on...and I know where's he's at," said Yolanda Ziarko, sailor's mother.

"I hope it doesn't happen...but, by the looks of it, it's going to happen. We just have to pray for the best," said James Ziarko, sailor's father.

With worry, though, also comes support. And Matthew Ziarko has plenty of that in Chicago -- dozens of relatives gather, simply to talk about him, his job, and, like so many military members, being away from home for Christmas.

"I already know we're getting ready to send him a package," said James Ziarko. "He's excited and we always send extra stuff."

Keen Sword ends Friday.

Matthew Ziarko will not be returning home for the holidays.

But airman Lott is hopeful to return home in late December or early January. She says her family plans to celebrate the holidays whenever she returns. .


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