The men and women of the 459th Military Airlift Wing aren't waiting to see whether President Bush will call them up to active duty. They didn't, in fact, wait for anything at all before jumping into Operation Desert Shield.

The pilots, mechanics, cargo handlers and engineers in the 459th, an Air Force Reserve unit stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, have been very much involved in the operation since U.S. troop deployment began early this month.

"We launched airplanes out of here immediately after this thing started," said Lt. Col. Bob Duigman, deputy commander for operations at the unit. "We didn't have to call any of our guys -- they called us."

The 459th maintains and flies eight C-141s, military aircraft designed to transport hundreds of troops or large cargoes. In the Gulf crisis, the unit's planes and personnel have carried supplies and troops into the Middle East, and the unit is working constantly to keep those planes running.

"We get airplanes in here all hours of the day and night," said Duigman, who lives in Burke. "Anything that looks like it can fit in an airplane probably will, and we can load it."

For now, members of the 459th are converging on the base, coming and going as their civilian work allows.

"I said goodbye to my wife and my boss, called and said I was coming," said Col. Frank Vicente, 48, who drove the 230 miles from his home in State College, Pa., to Andrews early yesterday morning. "I couldn't stand it any longer, so I came on down."

There is a kind of eagerness here, a sense that they want to stay in the action as long as the action lasts.

"Everyone in my branch is hoping we'll get called up," said Maj. Tim Herrel, who lives in Harrisonburg, Va.

Herrel has several reasons to follow the crisis closely: Not only is he involved on the ground here, but he has an Air Force son stationed in Turkey, and another at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida who has been told that he may be in Saudi Arabia in 60 days.

Officials won't say how many reservists have taken part in the operation so far, but they do say 95 percent of their assigned strength in the flying squadron has volunteered and participated.

Moving between civilian obligations and military duty poses different problems for different people. Paul Frederick, an engineer who lives in Lexington Park, Md., said leaving work isn't any trouble for him.

"I'm available anytime they need me. I've got all that worked out," he said. "It's kind of a balancing act between the reserve outfit and what we do in civilian life."

Jim Kochervar, a pilot for USAir, left Pittsburgh yesterday to be ready to fly missions if he's needed at the base. Work is something that, for him, will have to wait.

"I just take a dock in pay," Kochervar said. "Most of the guys out here right now are working here in lieu of their civilian jobs."

Some of the pilots who also work for airlines will leave the base to fly a trip, then come right back.

The missions being run out of Andrews involve a plane's flying to a stateside military base, where it is loaded with troops or cargo.

The plane then flies to a staging area in Europe, from which it may or may not go on to the Middle East.

A flight engineer based at Andrews just got back from flying into the Middle East and said the mechanics of the operation were well in place early on.

"We flew cargo in there, supplies, water -- plenty of water," said Michael Engelbrecht, who flies from California to do his reserve time with the 459th. "The ground crews there definitely were very friendly, very efficient."

"The weekend warrior thing is really not true for the flying crews," said Duigman, the commander for operations. "I think that everybody realizes what's going on over there is not a drill."

Chris Grosenick, 28, was to start classes at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in about a week, but he's got other things on his mind right now. Things like keeping the planes that are ferrying troops, arms and supplies to stop Saddam Hussein in the air.

"I'd like to see the man wise up so I can go back to school," the mechanic said. "But if he doesn't, I'm here to keep doing my job."