Maryland Defense Force under attack

October 19, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF), the state's volunteer militia, is fighting for its life.

Lt. Gen. James F. Fretterd, adjutant general and commander of the state's Military Department, has ordered the Defense Force -- which has about 150 active members statewide -- to halt recruiting and activities aside from meetings at armories.

He has appointed a committee of retired generals, including a former Defense Force commander, to make recommendations "as soon as possible" about whether the unit should be disbanded or reduced to a token cadre.

Fighting back, MDDF Col. Paul T. McHenry Jr. has submitted a 17-page petition with a request for a personal meeting with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, as commander in chief, to argue for retaining the Defense Force, possibly outside of the Military Department.

"He [Fretterd] has shut us down using the power of the governor VTC but without the express authority of the governor. We want the governor to come in and make the rules," said McHenry, an Anne Arundel County lawyer.

The MDDF wants "official sanction to exist, with a mission and with a sound command and organizational structure that protects our volunteers," McHenry said. He also suggested that the governor, not the adjutant general, appoint the Defense Force commander.

The governor's office received the group's petition Tuesday and is reviewing it, said Raymond C. Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman.

The state's smallest and least-known military unit, the MDDF is the descendant of the Baltimore militia, which mobilized in 1814 to defend the city against the British.

MDDF's mission is to be a backup force if the National Guard, also part of the Military Department, is fully mobilized. These days, most of its work has involved volunteer activities, including traffic and crowd control at civilian events and in a number of Guard operations.

However, Col. Howard S. Freedlander, the National Guard executive officer, who praised the MDDF spirit of volunteerism, said that with the end of the Cold War, the National Guard's mission has changed and the MDDF's role as the Guard's backup has been eliminated.

Freedlander said the Guard is "very confident" that Glendening will delegate MDDF control specifically to the adjutant general.

In March, Fretterd sought an attorney general's opinion to support his view that, among other things, MDDF volunteers could not handle crowd and traffic control and parking at fairs and other events and call it "training."

But the attorney general's opinion, issued last month, supported the Defense Force position for the most part.

Assistant Attorney General Craig A. Nielsen wrote that the MDDF is part of the organized militia and that Glendening, as commander in chief, has the authority to approve volunteer training activities that include traffic and crowd control.

Pub Date: 10/19/96

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