WASHINGTON – Nearly 250 Maryland National Guardsmen are leaving this weekend to serve their country in the war against terrorism and the possible war with Iraq — by staying in Maryland.
The 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry, leaves Sunday for a week of training at Fort Dix, N.J. After that, members of the Dundalk-based unit will spend a year on active duty at Andrews Air Force Base and Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, taking over for reservists who have been on duty for the past year at those bases.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take a bunch of my soldiers down there and doing our part in the war against terrorism,” said Capt. Patrick Young, commander of one of the companies in the battalion.
Although Young has been in the Guard for almost 14 years, this is the first time he has been called to active duty away from home. But many others in the battalion have been on duty, either in their roles as guardsmen or in past careers in the military.
“You walk around our unit and you’ll see combat patches from Desert Storm, from Somalia,” said Maj. Lance A. Wang, battalion executive officer. “This is not going to be culture shock for them.”
He said that almost 100 members of the battalion have been on active duty of one kind or another in the past year.
The unit was officially activated Thursday. Even though this is the first time the whole unit has been called up since 1941, the guardsmen were not surprised when they heard in December that they would be activated.
“The writing was on the wall for most of these guys ever since 9/11,” Wang said. “I don’t think anyone around here thought, `It can’t happen to me.'”
Most of the 249 soldiers in the unit are traditional guardsmen who train one weekend a month, Young said. Like the others, he has another job, in his case as a telecom installation and maintenance technician with Verizon. And like many of the others, he is married and has children. He is leaving behind a 17-year-old stepson and a 9-month-old son.
“We will have the opportunity to take leave and see our families but it’s still a long separation,” he said.
Even though the guardsmen will not be on the front lines, they said they are prepared to serve their country by doing duty at Maryland installations.
“This isn’t what we train for. We train to fight wars,” Young said. “But it’s the piece of the pie we’re given now.”