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Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2004 story:PUB_DESC
The Trekkies Among Us

Special to the Star-Telegram

Efrain Vidal-Plaza (Ka'Min), left, greets Adam Hamner (K'Mok) as members of a Klingon Assault Group, including Harold Rosenbaum (Krell), center, gather at George Whitaker's house.

Person2 , as 2nd Lt. Person2 Vestai, leaves the combat area after judging a fight between Klingon warriors.


Adam Hamner (K'Mok) disarms a Warrior during a practice by the warriors of the Imperial Klingon Vessel Melota.

Salek Sutai grew up Vulcan, emulating Mr. Spock, and even entered the computer science profession because, as Spock would say, it was a "logical" field.

So to other Trekkies, Salek has a hard time explaining how he became a Klingon.

"Despite growing up Vulcan," Salek said, "I can appreciate the Klingon concepts of honor, duty and loyalty."

In real life, away from those who get immersed in characters from the Star Trek series, Salek is a 41-year-old earthling named George Whitaker, a mild-mannered federal employee with a wife and two children. But when the workday ends and Whitaker drives home, he becomes one of the 30 to 40 crew members of the Imperial Klingon Vessel Melota, based in Arlington.

Like Whitaker … er, Salek … the crew members of the Melota are Star Trek fans. They are construction workers, office workers, mail carriers, homemakers, payroll specialists, military personnel and health care workers, ranging in age from 19 to 49.

Are these Klingons just a few local oddballs? Not quite. The IKV Melota is one ship, or local group, in a vast fleet that composes an international organization called the Klingon Assault Group, which is one of 17 Klingon groups covering 37 U.S. states and 22 countries, including South Africa, Israel, India, Japan and Poland.

Klingon groups get together to sharpen their battle skills, attend conventions, make uniforms and weapons, go camping, master the Klingon language and raise money for charity. The IKV Melota is filming material to create a 15-minute recruiting video for cable-access television.

"We are self-professed geeks," said Captain3, a particularly large Klingon also known as Captain3 , 39. Captain3's comment is reinforced by an "I Love Nerds" T-shirt worn by the girlfriend of one of the crew members at a recent Ba'Leth practice.

"What's a Ba'Leth?" you may ask, a sure sign that you are not Klingon. First, it's pronounced bat-leth. Second, it is the main reason many of these Star Trek fans became Klingons.

A Ba'Leth is a "sword of honor," a curved 4-foot blade with handles that Klingon warriors use to beat non-Klingons into bloody pulps. Here on the IKV Melota, which often bears a striking resemblance to George Whitaker's back yard in Arlington, the warriors use plywood Ba'Leths covered with padding, "mainly for the protection of the plywood," Salek said.

Even with padding, the weapon is dangerous. Person1, 34, has broken two fingers, a hand and his nose, and dislocated his wrist and several fingers, during Ba'Leth practice.

"I can point to each member of the group and list their broken parts," Person1 said.

Despite the dangers involved in weekly Ba'Leth practice, it is the one event that brings the group together each week. "Ba'Leth got me into the club," Salek said. "I wanted the combat training."

Second Lt. Person2 Vestai, known as Staff Sgt. Person2 at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, joined the club because he needed the exercise.

"I used to always make fun of people who did Trekkie stuff," Person2, 45, said. "But being a Klingon is fun. There's a massive amount of martial arts and even the women fight. It's my extended family."

The captain of this motley crew is Kbubbles, a woman known in Grandview as Pat Burke, 44. She attended a Star Trek convention out of curiosity and met the crew of the IKV Melota.

"I enjoyed being around them, so I joined," Kbubbles said. "It's that simple. And I needed all these men to worship me."

Capt. Kbubbles attends Ba'Leth practice and opens her house in Grandview for the annual Ba'Leth tournament, but she is quick to say that the club, which formed in 1998, involves more than just fighting.

In December, the group raised $1,500 for the Arlington Women's Shelter by wrapping presents for donations at Border's Books in Fort Worth. It also has supported the Make-a-Wish Foundation and regularly provide security at functions for the Creative Arts Theatre & School in Arlington. Members also give blood -- not just during Ba'Leth practice.

The IKV Melota crew also plays paintball, and every fifth Sunday they dress in full Klingon regalia and descend upon a local restaurant, where they shirk silverware and eat with their hands.

"Some restaurants welcome us back. Some never want to see us again," said Dr. Gizmo, also known as Mark Alcala, 49.

So why do they do this?

"We are a family more than anything else," Captain3 said. "We have fun, share ideas and watch each other's kids."

Members of the IKV Melota say being Klingon allows them to unwind and, in a strange way, to be themselves.

"None of us have preconceived ideas of what people should be like or how they should act," Dr. Gizmo said. "We accept each other for who we are."

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