'For-sale sign' makes event at air base bittersweet

A formal homecoming celebration for members of the Maryland Air National Guard who served in Iraq was bittersweet yesterday at the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, where civilian jobs and military positions could be eliminated in a Defense Department restructuring.

"We were preparing for this homecoming for six months," said Col. Guy M. Walsh, a commander with the state Air National Guard, speaking to the crowd of more than 300 military personnel, family and officials. "But now a for-sale sign is on the front of our house."

The base is on a list of military facilities facing either closure or realignment in the coming months. The list was released Friday.

Under the national restructuring, the base would lose eight C-130J cargo aircraft, which would be relocated to bases in California and Rhode Island. The Maryland Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport is home to about 1,600 military personnel.

The relocation of the cargo aircraft could result in the loss of more than 100 full-time civilian jobs and almost 400 Guard positions, according to base officials.

Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, told the audience that the aircraft were first used by the Maryland Guard in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We are going to prove its worth," Tuxill said. "We are a nation at war, and we believe that the transfer of [a] critical war-fighting tool such as the C-130J is not in the best interest of our nation at this time."

Tuxill said he has been talking with state officials, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who attended yesterday's celebration, to drum up support for keeping the C-130J aircraft and its personnel here.