Md. defenders volunteer with pleasure

November 18, 1990|By Robert A. Erlandson

After six years in the Air Force, Jane Simpson loathed paperwork. But now she finds a certain pleasure in donning her crisp green uniform and working through a stack of personnel records.

"The paperwork never ends," said the Baltimore housewife. "I hate it, but I look forward to every meeting, too. I missed the military atmosphere."

The camaraderie of service life was the magnet, too, for the Rev. George Romley, an Eastern Orthodox priest and former Coast Guard hospital corpsman.

"My memories of serving in the military were pleasant," said the ++ Timonium priest, "and this is a response to the community at large."

Ms. Simpson and Father Romley are typical of the veterans serving in state's smallest, least-known military organization -- the Maryland Defense Force. She's a personnel officer with the rank of sergeant; he's the force's chaplain.

A descendant of militia units that mobilized in 1814 to fend off the British invasion, the volunteer, unarmed Defense Force could be called up for the first time since World War II to help in the Persian Gulf crisis.

If state National Guard units become depleted by call-ups, the Defense Force would take over such domestic duties as armory security and providing an auxiliary military police force for civil emergencies.

"We always anticipated that if there was a National Guard mobilization, it would be dramatic," said Col. William Corbin, a Severna Park lawyer and a brigade commander in the force.

The force's commander, Brig. Gen. William H. Neal, 68, of Ellicott City, said some of his people are already helping activated Guard members.

0$ Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, the

Guard's state adjutant general, acknowledged the help given to Towson's mobilized 209th Military Police Company at last month's annual Muster Day of the Defense Force.

"Certainly, few groups in Maryland epitomize volunteerism as well as you do," General Fretterd said.

The Defense Force, whose commander-in-chief is the governor, was disbanded in 1946 and reactivated in 1983. It is actively recruiting, particularly young men and women with no military experience.

Growth has been slow since 1983. There are now 256 active members and about 100 "associates," who participate in some activities, said General Neal, a retired utility-company engineer and World War II veteran.

The force is top-heavy with commissioned officers because former officers seem more interested than do non-commissioned officers or enlisted personnel in spending a few days a month back in uniform, he said. The general said his goal is 400 to 500 members.

General Neal is trying to spur recruiting with a new campaign to attract young men and women for training in a network of quick-response teams at armories across the state. The troops also will be getting new gray urban camouflage uniforms, in addition to their dress greens, he said.

The teams, of three officers and 17 enlisted soldiers each, will be available to help local governments, in cooperation with the Maryland Emergency Management System, in civil emergencies.

Enlistees between the ages of 16 and 70 are accepted. "If a man is fit and able to do the job at 70, why wouldn't we take him?" General Neal said.

He said the average age is 51 and that he would "like to see it down to 46, but it's going to take time."

The Defense Force, which this year changed its name from the State Guard to avoid confusion with its national counterpart, is head

quartered at the Pikesville Armory. It is divided into two brigades, with headquarters at Pikesville and Annapolis.

Most units have only a handful of members, Colonel Corbin said. "We have a cadre structure," he said, a core of people trained to lead the "unorganized militia" -- the citizenry.

If the gulf crisis erupts into a full-scale war, Defense Force leaders said they would expect to see a dramatic increase in enlistments.

The units meet every other week at their local armories for whatever duties or training are assigned. They also have full-day training sessions on Saturdays, some at the new National Guard headquarters at the old Montrose School.

The National Guard assists in the training and provides scenarios, such as dealing with a sudden influx of refugee military dependents from overseas.

L Why would anyone want to join such a no-pay, no-glory unit?

"Patriotism," replied Colonel Corbin, an Air Force intelligence officer before he entered law school. "There are lots of ways to give back to the community. A large part of what we are doing is creating and putting in place an organization that can help."

He said a number of Vietnam veterans have joined the force because "they find an organization they can relate to and come home to the military," in some cases after unpleasant experiences following their return from Southeast Asia.

Maj. Jack Barrash, 71, a retired Pikesville businessman and a supply officer in the force, was among those in the State Guard during World War II. He recalled guardsmen handling administrative duties and guarding sensitive installations such as reservoirs and bridges.

Like all State Guard members, Major Barrash was demobilized in 1946, but when the unit was reactivated in 1983, he was among the first to sign up again.

"I just liked being in it," he said. "I like the people."

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