The Maryland Air National Guard announced yesterday that members at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River will head for the Middle East on a mission that was scheduled before the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 on New York and Washington.
Under the plan, Air National Guard members with the 175th Wing will be flying A-10 fighter jets to patrol the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. The names and number of Guard personnel heading to the Persian Gulf and the date of their departure were not released for security purposes, Guard leaders said.
"Participation in this upcoming ... rotation is one more example of the critical role that Maryland's Air National Guardsmen play in America's Air Force and the defense of our great nation," Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, assistant adjutant general for the state Air National Guard, said in a statement yesterday.
Throughout its 80-year history, the Maryland Air National Guard has provided support for high-profile worldwide missions, including patrolling the skies over Bosnia and aiding humanitarian efforts in Haiti, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Central and South America.
The National Guard has nearly 8,000 full- and part-time members in Maryland, including 2,000 with the Air National Guard. The 175th Wing at Warfield is a combination of the 104th Fighter Squadron and the 135th Airlift group. The base has 15 A-10 jets and eight C-130J transport planes.
The mission has been scheduled for more than a year, unit leaders said. The unit conducted a similar mission in Iraq in February 1999.
But officials acknowledged that the terrorist attacks have increased the significance of the new deployment.
"It happens to be coincidental," Maj. Robert L. Gould said of the timing. "But it heightens the awareness level."
One pilot getting ready for the mission agreed yesterday that the level of its importance has risen since Sept. 11.
"Doug," 33, of Ellicott City (Guard officials would not allow his last name to be used) said he had flown missions over Bosnia and Iraq.
"I certainly think there is more anticipation," the former Air Force pilot said. "The events of Sept. 11 bring a sense of urgency. If you ever needed a reason to stay away from home and be away from your family, that's it."
The father of two has been trying to explain the terrorist attacks to his 5-year-old daughter.
"Daddy's going to try to go and get the bad people," he said he told her.
The pilots are ready for wherever the mission may take them, he said.
"We're feeling the same thing that everyone else [in the nation] is feeling," he said. "We're just in a better position to act on it."