Saying goodbye to a soldier being shipped overseas sounds too final, as if he weren't coming back. Wives of two Maryland Air National Guard members who took off for an overseas mission couldn't bring themselves to say it last night.
"You never say goodbye," said Beverly Mapp of Harford County, whose husband is a Guard maintenance crew chief.
Sherree Brown, who lives in Carroll County, said she put a card in her husband's bag that said, "I'm not saying goodbye."
Their husbands belong to the Maryland National Guard's 135th Tactical Airlift Group, which will take over the work of active duty Air Force units that have been deployed to Saudi Arabia for operation Desert Shield. The group's mission is to fly cargo and personnel to bases across Europe.
Three C-130 cargo planes took off just before and after midnight last night from Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport in Middle River, taking 82 men and women of the 135th on a 15-hour trip to Rhein-Main Air Base outside Frankfurt, West Germany. Seventeen others from the 135th deployed on Monday.
The unit is due back home Oct. 21. But, as Mapp and Brown sat with other Guard families in the air base dining room before the takeoff, they somehow doubted that their husbands' mission would be confined to Europe or that it would end at the appointed time.
"There's no doubt in my mind he's going to be flying into Saudi Arabia," Mapp said.
Brown said she has yet to hear of anyone coming back from Desert Shield. She confessed to having "a funny feeling" that once her husband's unit arrives in Germany the military command will want it to stay on. Whatever the mission turns out to be, "we're going to be the last ones to be told," Brown said.
Later, the families filed out of the dining room to watch the 135th stand at attention on the tarmac for a farewell from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the commander-in-chief of the Maryland National Guard. Schaefer appeared in a regulation brown leather flight jacket and Guard cap and told them: "I'm so proud of you."
The governor walked down the rows of men and women at attention, handing each a black card that said: "Marylanders Salute You."
Most of the families of the 135th were somber, sensing that this mission would be different from the two-week training stints that had taken the Guard men and women away from home before and brought them home safe.
The Guard men and women themselves were ambivalent, if only because leaving their families slightly dampened their excitement.
William Player, a maintenance crew chief, said his feeling about the mission was "yes and no."
"Yes, I want to go," he said. "The no part is my girlfriend doesn't want me to go."
Player wants to go because "it's something that has to be done" and because he sees himself as part of a select group that can do it. "Some are like frontier fighters. Without them we wouldn't have a country," he said. "I'm one of the adventurers."
Player is 49 and expects to stay in the Guard "until they kick me out." He lives on Park Heights Avenue, "the danger zone," he called it, referring to street crime there.
He expects to be safer flying C-130s around Europe, or wherever else the mission may take him, because there, "you can see what you're fighting," he said. "At home, you can't see."
Player said he and a few friends in the unit had gathered for cocktails before arriving at the base. "Cocktails beforehand. It sort of relaxes you," he said, patting his thin, taut stomach, "because no one knows what tomorrow may bring."
His sister, Phyllis Smith, who ended seven years of active Army duty in 1988, had come to see him off. She said she wished she could go with him.
Smith was worried about Player's safety, only "in a way, yes, and in a way, no," she said. "When God calls your number, there's nothing you or anybody else can do about it."