Wartime found them racing toward the Rio Grande in the Mexican-American conflict, storming the beaches of Normandy and confronting Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.
In peace, the Maryland National Guard's 1229th Transportation Company has rescued flood victims, delivered hay to drought-stricken farmers and even played host to weekend basketball games for local kids.
But yesterday Uncle Sam told the Crisfield unit its services were no longer needed. The same message was delivered to the Guard's 1729th Maintenance Company in Havre de Grace -- decisions that mean Maryland will lose $5.2 million annually, most of it in salaries to the 355 citizen-soldiers presently serving with the two outfits.
The word came from the Pentagon where Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed reports that had been circulating in Army and National Guard circles for the past year.
But Maryland officials say it won't be the last word.
"General Powell has a tough job downsizing the Department of Defense, but he's dead wrong on how he wants to reduce the National Guard and reserves," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said through a spokesman yesterday.
"I've been working with the head of the National Guard to keep the units in Havre de Grace and Crisfield open. These two units have proven invaluable to our national defense and our ability to respond quickly to disasters here in Maryland," she said.
The two Guard units are authorized for 425 positions, though only 355 are filled. In addition to those units, 10 Army Reserve units in Maryland -- from Baltimore to Rockville to Cumberland -- and one small Navy Reserve outfit were scheduled to be disbanded, cuts that will take money out of the pockets of many other Marylanders.
About 1,500 National Guard and military reserve jobs in Maryland were targeted by Mr. Cheney as part of an effort to cut the nation's part-time military forces over the next five years. The cuts must be approved by Congress.
As they have been doing for the past year, Guard officials in Maryland and Gov. William Donald Schaefer have been working the halls of Congress to ensure that the state's Guard force of 7,400 remains untouched.
"When you cut the Guard, you cut a governor's ability to call up the Guard in time of civil emergency, such as a hurricane or blizzard or oil spill. Any cuts in the Guard affect a community in one way or another, and that's what's important," said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, a spokesman for Maryland's top guardsman, Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd.
"It's a matter for making a case for those two units," said Ken Mannella, director of Governor Schaefer's Washington office.
In Crisfield, the Guard -- or its predecessor -- has been a presence in the Eastern Shore community for more than 100 years. In January, the 175-member 1229th truck company celebrated its 77th anniversary.
At the time of the Mexican-American War, it was known as Company L, the 115th Infantry Division, and it got as far as Texas before the war ended. And in World War II, it took part in the Normandy landings in Europe.
During the Persian Gulf war, it was the only Maryland Guard unit to see action in both Iraq and Kuwait. As a transportation company, the unit hauled everything from tank ammunition to prisoners of war in its 18-wheel tractor-trailers.
But where the unit feels it has the greatest impact is right at home, said Capt. Michael E. Marshall, the unit commander. "Our main mission and what we're concerned with is helping the community in times of emergency crisis," Captain Marshall said.
And the 1229th has done its share -- from rescuing hospital patients during Hurricane Gloria to helping replace a bridge on the Western Shore that was destroyed during a storm.
The Havre de Grace unit, which has 180 members, has done similar community service. It has provided generators to Havre de Grace during power outages and towed abandoned vehicles from the Susquehanna River.
General Fretterd, the head of the Guard in Maryland, has pledged to transfer another unit, perhaps an engineering company, to Crisfield in an effort to keep positions available for the 1229th's men and women, according to Colonel Freedlander, the Guard spokesman.
"We're putting a unit down there where people can learn skills that are easily transferable in the job market," the colonel said.
That came as good news to Staff Sgt. Ronald G. Black, a construction worker who has been unemployed since the Crisfield company returned from the Persian Gulf last May. With a 15-year-old stepson to feed and clothe and a weekly unemployment check of $107, Sergeant Black said he can't afford to lose his monthly guard pay of $354.
"Financially it puts me up the river," said Sergeant Black, an 18-year member of the Crisfield unit who needs to remain in the Guard another four years to qualify for a pension. "Finding a job is hard right now. The income I get from [the Guard] is extremely helpful."
Md. units to be disbanded
Here are the Maryland National Guard and reserve units targeted for elimination under yesterday's Pentagon proposal:
ARMY NATIONAL GUARD. . .................... ... ... .. . . Personnel
1729th Maintenance Company. . . . .. . Havre de Grace. ......... 244
1229th Medium Truck Company. ... . .. .Crisfield. ............ . 181
100th Station Hospital. ....... ... ...Baltimore. .... . ....... 333
698th Replacement Supply Parts Co.. .. Frederick. .............. 271
265th Heavy Material Supply Co.. ..... Cumberland. ... ..........162
HQ Co., 510th Area Support Group. .. . Baltimore. ......... .... 142
407th Personnel Service Co.. ...... .. Fort Meade. ........ ..... 92
Chaplain Support Teams. .............. Unknown. . ............... 31
203rd Cargo Document Detachment. ..... Baltimore. ...... ......... 8
524th Thoracic Team. ..................Rockville. .. ............. 7
Unit 8406 USS McCandless. .. ...... ...Cumberland. .. ........... 39
Source: Department of Defense