Md. Guardsmen on the move for homeland defense

Emotional moments as families separate amid uncertainty

October 14, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When Maryland National Guardsman William D. Crosby Sr. first heard about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he knew right away that he would volunteer to help his fellow guardsmen in New York.

But within the hour, five hijackers had crashed a jetliner into the Pentagon, and Crosby suspected he'd have orders of his own. He was right.

The Randallstown man was among the several hundred Maryland Guardsmen federalized and dispatched Sept. 12 to Northern Virginia to guard the crime scene at the Pentagon.

And yesterday, he was one of about 300 military police officers deployed to Fort Stewart, an Army base near Savannah, Ga., as part of the nation's homeland defense operation.

The three units - the 290th Military Police Company, the 200th Military Police Company and the 115th Military Police Battalion - are the first Maryland Guard troops on an extended deployment out of state since the terrorist attacks.

An additional 300 soldiers - in companies A, B and C of the 1st Battalion of the 115th Infantry - will leave tomorrow morning from armories in Olney, Frederick and Greenbelt for Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed to an undisclosed location in the United States.

About one-third of the military police and infantry soldiers who were called up re-enlisted specifically to be a part of the mission.

"I have mixed feelings," Crosby, an individual retirement account representative with Mercantile Bank, said yesterday morning as he bounced his 8-month-old son, Quincy, on his knee while keeping an eye on 7-year-old Kanysha and 2-year-old D.C. Jr. "I'm excited that I get a chance to serve our country, but I have these little ones and my wife who I don't want to leave."

Those sentiments echoed throughout the Parkville Armory yesterday morning, where about 90 MPs dressed in camouflage fatigues, combat boots and black berets began arriving with their families shortly after 5 a.m. to finish packing duffel bags and get ready to board three buses for the 12-hour ride to Georgia. Another 210 military police left from the Salisbury Armory.

"It's still hard to grasp," said Bonita Mack of Randallstown. Her husband, Alvin, a sergeant and 12-year veteran with the Baltimore Police Department, was home from the Pentagon crash site only a week and a half before receiving word that he would leave again.

"We have two young kids, so this is definitely changing our lives right now," she said. "But it's something that has to be done, so he's glad he's able to serve in whatever capacity possible."

Asked whether she was less nervous about her husband's assignment because it was part of the homeland defense operation rather than the offensive mission overseas, Mack shook her head.

"At some other time, I'd say yes, but because there have been terrorist attacks and terrorism scares here, it seems just as dangerous in the U.S. as overseas now," she said.

As the nation's first citizen militia, the National Guard is the oldest of the country's armed forces. The troops are among the first called upon to battle floods and forest fires, to serve as the security force during strikes and riots, and to respond to hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes and other domestic disasters.

In recent years, Guard troops also have been deployed to fight alongside other U.S. military units overseas and to serve in foreign peacekeeping missions in such war-torn countries as Somalia, Kuwait and Bosnia. More than 63,000 Guardsmen - including some from the Maryland military police units sent yesterday to Georgia - served during the Persian Gulf war.

In some cases, the MPs will be filling in for active-duty personnel who have been sent overseas. Others will guard buildings that did not have military protection before the terrorist attacks prompted heightened security.

With uncertainty heavy in the air, Justin and Dana Lynam of Calvert County stood inches apart in the armory parking lot, talking quietly and gently rubbing each other's arms. The couple married a week ago.

"It was rough when I first found out," Dana Lynam said of her husband's out-of-state assignment.

"But now I'm looking at it as `Who am I to think it shouldn't be my husband when everyone here is somebody's husband or son or mother?' Somebody's got to do it. So now, I just want them to leave already so they can hurry up and get home."

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