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Protecting Mainers for over two centuries - Bicentennial marks 200 years of the state’s militia

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MSgt. Jason Howes, of Bucksport, displays parts that the 101st Air Refueling Wing's machine shop has had to recreate. Howes, who oversees the shop, said their new 3-D polymer printer is certified to craft such parts, and since the KC-135s are older, the parts must often be manufactured on base since Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, no longer produces or stores them. MSgt. Jason Howes, of Bucksport, displays parts that the 101st Air Refueling Wing's machine shop has had to recreate. Howes, who oversees the shop, said their new 3-D polymer printer is certified to craft such parts, and since the KC-135s are older, the parts must often be manufactured on base since Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, no longer produces or stores them. (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – When terrorists struck the twin towers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham was working at Getchell Bros., his family’s business in Brewer. His brother, Don, heard about the first plane hit on the radio and called Farnham. He then turned on the TV just in time to see a plane strike the second tower as the first one was burning.

“I said, ‘This is not an accident,’” he recalled. “One of the guys there in the office said, ‘Is this going to affect you in the Guard?’ I always remember that question because that completely changed everything for me. I wouldn't be doing this if it hadn’t been for that day.”

And for him, it did change. Farnham, 58, of Bangor, who is now Adjutant General of the Maine National Guard (MNG), was a major at the time – he would be promoted to lieutenant colonel just a month later – and a part-time instructor and squadron pilot for the 132nd Air Refueling Squadron under the 101st Air Refueling Wing headquartered at Bangor’s Maine Air National Guard base. In a matter of minutes, Farnham called the scheduling office at the base and amid the commotion he heard occurring on the other end of the call, he was told to get to the base immediately.

He promptly left the office at the ice plant, drove home to grab his flight suit and went to the base where he stood on alert status for the next 72 hours as events in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania unfolded.

“We had an airplane that was already airborne, and we launched one more,” he said of the Maine Air Guard’s initial response. “The rest of us were standing on alert just waiting.”

Farnham said Maine’s 101st would eventually maintain refueling tankers over Washington D.C. and New York 24 hours a day for months as fighter aircraft kept vigilance over the horrors that had occurred below.

“The fighters were flying combat air patrol [CAP] and we were there to keep the fighters refueled. That went on for over a year and a half,” he said. “I flew a lot of hours over New York. I even had a map of New York City and I’d find the streets and the towns as I just kept orbiting for hours and hours every third day.”

In times of conflict and national emergencies like Sept. 11, the Maine National Guard has stood strong over its 200 years in existence. Its oldest unit, the 133rd Engineer Battalion, actually predates Maine’s statehood when it formed in 1760 in response to conflict during the final of the four French and Indian wars. Organized as the Maine Division of Militia – the Maine District was then an annexation of Massachusetts – Maine soldiers would join their Massachusetts brethren to defend against the successive French incursions.

But it wouldn’t be until the War of 1812 after Massachusetts’s Gov. Caleb Strong declined to send militia to Maine to defend against British invaders when Maine citizens decided they had enough of Massachusetts rule and rose up to defend their land. Having already sacked Castine and Bangor, the British were on their way to attack Portland in 1814 when Maj. Gen. Alfond Richardson disobeyed Gov. Strong and fortified defenses around the city’s harbor. After setbacks in other coastal attacks, British forces declined to engage due to the risk of the fortifications and Portland was spared seeing any action.

Yet it was Gov. Strong’s failure to defend Maine that would lead the territory to separate from Massachusetts and seek statehood just six years later in 1820 when it entered the Union as part of the Missouri Compromise. And that was when the Maine National Guard officially formed as the Maine Militia.

A modern force

The Militia Act of 1792 formally organized state militia units and gave the U.S. president the ability to call up those militias to federal service in times of war or insurrection. State militias operated under that law until low training levels, disorganization and a lack of readiness during the Spanish-American War in 1898 led to The Militia Act of 1903. That act adopted stricter military standards, established an early version of the National Guard and further defined state militias into unorganized units of all abled-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45, and organized professional units that were federally supported. It also better-defined state versus federal control and strengthened the ability of the president to call up reserves, which was a major historical factor in states’ reluctance to not defend each other nearly a century earlier during the War of 1812.

Thirteen years later, the term militia gave way to its current National Guard designation in the National Defense Act of 1916. A further amendment to the Militia Act of 1903 in 1933 formally designated members of state national guards as simultaneous members of the U.S. National Guard, eliminating the technical issue of having to resign state service to enter federal service when mobilized.

Today, MNG operates as Maine’s homeland defense and an operational reserve component for the active duty U.S. Army and Air Force branches and falls under the authority of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, a joint Army and Air Force agency within the Department of Defense. While the National Guard Bureau coordinates guard units in all 50 states and two U.S. territories, Maine’s Air National Guard draws its command orders from the national Air Mobility Command. Conversely, the Army National Guard’s structure falls under specific mission commands at the federal level.

“In Bangor, a lot of things revolve around the airplane mission. You have to get guys trained to be ready to deploy. You have a weekly flying schedule. You have a deployment schedule. You have regular maintenance because every so many months or hours things have to be done. The [Air Guard] operates around a Wing,” Farnham said. “The Army Guard is different. They have different components under their force structure that is negotiated with the Army Guard Bureau in Washington and the active duty Army as to what types of missions the Army active duty would like the Guard to do, and then the Guard Bureau decides what states are going to get what mission.”

Farnham explained that some states have more infantry units while others are heavier in engineering; some states have well-diversified units compared to some that don’t. Overall, he said the Army Guard unit structure is much different than the Air Guard since what Army units are deployed where is determined at the federal level.

“It is a little bit more complicated in how their force structure works, and because it’s a little more fluid, it’s more important for us as a state to look at what missions we have and try to figure out what types of people we have out there that we can recruit,” he said.

A dual role

When Maj. Gen. Richardson defended Portland in 1814, he had just 200 men in his militia. Today, MNG consists of about 3,000 members, including 1,900 in the Maine Army Guard and about 1,100 in the Maine Air Guard. According to Maj. Carl Lamb, MNG’s public affairs officer based in Augusta, enlistment reached its peak just after World War II as Maine’s forces numbered around 5,600 when returning soldiers and airmen were transitioning back from the overseas war theaters.

Maine soldiers serving elsewhere for the national defense has been a staple throughout the state’s existence, and Maine’s volunteer regiments certainly made their mark in history in the Civil War, especially the 20th Maine under the command of then-Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain. Campaign honors litter each American conflict, from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 to both world wars and Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We just welcomed home the 286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion,” Lamb said. “For the Air side, the Wing and South Portland units routinely support operations in U.S. Central Command, as well as Africa Command and European Command on occasion.”

And Maine National Guard units sometimes lead the way. Farnham said that was the case with the 286th that just returned from a 10-month deployment to Poland on Feb. 7. Originally mobilized for Operation Atlantic Resolve in April 2019, the 286th provided administrative support and mission command to five subordinate active duty Army and Army Reserve companies from Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and New York.

“They led that sustainment battalion. Three active duty and two reserve companies in that battalion were being led by a [Maine] Guard unit,” he said in admiration. “Everybody is there together in rotational forces and we are part of the operational military now. As an operational reserve, we are much more likely to be used in normal operations than we have been in the past.”

Farnham added that the Army Guard’s Bravo Company, Third Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment, based at the Brewer Armory, is scheduled for deployment next year. And such missions will likely continue in the future as the active-duty services depend upon Guard units to fill in mission gaps.

“We did Guam for a while on a fairly small scale just to provide some tanker support out there. There’s no tankers assigned to Guam and so the Guard rotated some out there. It wasn’t a bad place to be. However, with all the excitement with China and North Korea, now it’s a bigger, more serious operation with more activity,” he said. “Showing the flag and showing the force in those regions and making your allies comfortable and showing the adversary you’re serious is just as important as being in Iraq or Afghanistan. In some ways it’s probably more important because you hope it’s preventing something a lot worse in the future.”

Reporting for duty

Upon the attacks on Sept. 11, Farnham said some guardsmen were federalized and put on active duty orders immediately under USC Title 10. In that scenario, national guardsmen report directly to the federal services and the U.S. president is their commander-in-chief.

After 9/11, some guardsmen stayed on under USC Title 32 or State Active Duty orders for continued sensitive security operations, especially airport security. Farnham said National Guard units activated under Title 32 may fall under the command of either the president or a state governor, depending upon the situation. On State Active Duty, National Guard units are activated solely by a governor to respond to a natural or man-made disaster or homeland security mission within their state.

While Farnham serves as the top active duty commander in the state, he’s technically a member of the governor’s cabinet, where he’s also commissioner of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. Maine Gov. Janet Mills is in fact the constitutional civilian commander-in-chief. This is the case in all states, as the National Guard is designed as a domestic defense force first and a military reserve component second.

“When I became governor, I swore an oath to defend the health, safety and welfare of Maine people. It is my highest responsibility, and it is why I am grateful to have the brave men and women of the Maine National Guard in our service,” Mills said Monday. “They represent the very best of our state, and I know that whatever challenges may come, they are prepared to step up and serve. I am honored to lead them, am grateful for their service and sacrifice and pledge to look after them just as they look after us.”

That service and sacrifice means Maine’s National Guard units may also be tapped for disasters in Maine. The most notorious event where MNG units were deployed by a Maine governor in recent memory was the ice storm in 1998, when guard members were activated to help the over 600,000 people who were without power for weeks. Guard members had to leave their own families who may have been without power to help care for others.

“We had over a thousand airmen and soldiers involved in that,” Farnham said. “We were housing a lot of people in the hangar.” He added that the last time Guard units were needed for such an event was for the flooding up in Aroostook County in 2008.

Under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which coordinates the Federal Emergency Management Authority’s (FEMA) emergency management efforts across the country, Maine’s Guard units may also be called up to assist other states. Farnham said that was the case when units were sent to nearby states to help with weather-related disasters.

“We’ve gone to Massachusetts and Vermont several times for big storms. We sent a lot of people down for the Sandy superstorm,” he said. “EMAC coordinates and then they call on the Guard to help where there aren’t civilian capabilities.”

Being valuable

Maine’s 101st is one of 18 refueling wings across the country, and Farnham said the refueling tanker business is an extremely busy one. He added that the Air Force doesn’t have enough tankers for all the demand, which increased dramatically after 2001 when C-17s needed to move troops and equipment across the globe to meet operational requirements for the various anti-terrorism efforts.

“Over the last two decades we’ve been very busy, and I always say it’s for three reasons,” he explained. “One is the fact that everything the Air Force does needs tankers. The other piece is our geographic location – there is no better geographic location for tankers than Bangor for the east coast. The other part of it is that the MAINEiacs have such a long tradition and are so well known in the air refueling business. When people say MAINEiacs, you think refueling.”

Having a reputation as an elite unit is gold in the military; part of building that rep is branding. Mainiac stickers can be found everywhere in the Greater Bangor vicinity, but it’s where they’re found elsewhere in the country that gives Farnham a chuckle.

“The stickers are responsible for a lot of it,” he laughed. “Any time Senator [Susan] Collins talks, she’ll talk about where’s she’s seen the sticker most recently. I think she even keeps a few just to put them out where she doesn’t see them.”

Staying relevant means updating technology where possible, and much of that involves what goes on behind the scenes. From helicopters to aircraft and weapons to vehicles, MNG’s infrastructure is based on current military technology. Still, National Guard units aren’t always up to date and much of it has to do with budgets.

When Farnham was appointed in 2015 by then-Gov. Paul LePage, he said in a statement at the time that the next adjutant general would face significant challenges as “shrinking national resources are putting intense pressure on future Defense Department budgets. As we’ve seen, the entire relationship between the active-duty force structure and the reserve components is and will continue to be under debate.”

Asked about that statement today, he said it boiled down to concern about the continuing battle between the active duty branches and National Guard for funding.

“Back when I made those comments, we were faced with the sequestration,” he said referring to the Budget Control Act of 2011, the federal statute that automatically cut spending across all U.S. departments from 2013 until 2021. "This next year is the last year of sequestration. Every year we’ve got to come up with a budget that reflects sequestration, but we know that’s way short. So then they vote to make an exception to sequestration and give us the money we need or close to it.”

He said that while National Guard units are cheaper to operate and tight budgets tend to favor the Guard, they’re not always ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. While recent defense budgets have increased the last few years under the Trump administration, Farnham said the opposite effect can occur since active duty branches may have more resources and decrease their reliance on the National Guard.

“When they were forced to shrink, they needed the Guard to get their missions done,” he said of the active branches. “That said, it’s still tight and so I think we’re still valuable. They still look at us being efficient and costing less because they need big dollars for big things. Buying F-35s, standing up a space force, trying to compete in space are all incredibly expensive.”

Farnham said the recent increase in defense budgets has led to investment in aircraft parts that has had an immediate impact on mission readiness for most combat air wings, but the challenge for National Guard tanker fleets is getting a manufacturer to make parts for the older aircraft.

The KC-135 Stratotanker – a narrower and shorter version of a Boeing 707 – is the mainstay of the 101st and most other tanker fleets. But it’s an old design, having begun service in 1957 with the original A model. The Air Force began to retrofit in the 1980s to the E model, sporting more efficient engines salvaged from Boeing’s 707 commercial versions, Soon, however, those models began to be retired as well.

In fact, the 101st was the air wing that delivered the last remaining active KC-135E, tail number 56-3630, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in September 2009 for long-term storage.

Most of the aircraft used today, designated the KC-135R, underwent major avionics upgrades, sports even quieter, more efficient engines, can offload 50 percent more fuel and has a 60 percent longer range than its predecessor.

Yankee ingenuity

Still, the aircraft are getting old and Farnham said a new refueling tanker model is underway.

“It’s the KC-46 and Boeing is making it, but they’re way behind on delivery,” he said, adding the model has experienced some defects that need to be fixed to make it combat ready. “Now they’re estimating it will be almost three years before they’re ready to deploy.”

Behind the scenes, though, it’s the aircraft technicians who keep the planes flying and make the most out of what they have available. According to MSgt. Jason Howes, who oversees the 101st’s machine shop in Bangor, the Maine Air Guard recently got a Fortus 450 3-D polymer printer, only one of two he knows of across the entire National Guard Bureau. The printer is approved by the Air Force to print certified aircraft parts that are specific to each airframe, and Howes said it’s sometimes the only way they can manufacturer hard-to-get parts themselves.

“We’re one of the most automated machine shops – we do a lot of production parts for the flight controls,” he said. “There’s parts that Boeing stopped manufacturing and there’s no contract out there to make them. Boeing’s not in the storage business so they don’t keep those part on-hand. These planes are from the ’60s so they’re just not making them anymore.”

By pulling parts off decommissioned planes in storage facilities – colloquially called boneyards – Howes said they are able to laser scan it and produce polymer replicas to exact specs to test before milling them from aluminum or other metals. And testing with polymer cuts down costs when parts don’t translate exactly during the scanning process. In an example he showed of a damaged aircraft part, the polymer version didn’t quite fit and after some tweaks in the software, another model was printed to test it again before it was finally milled from aluminum.

“It only cost us $2 to make that mistake, versus a couple hundred [dollars] with aluminum,” he said.

The citizen soldier

Such ingenuity is what makes the Maine National Guard a valued member of the nation’s defense, and for over 200 years many of its members have been everyday people who work other jobs in their community. In the early years of Maine’s existence, it was the farmers, merchants, tradesmen and townspeople who would report for duty when threats approached.

Today, it’s not much different. With one air wing – including two squadrons in South Portland – and 15 army units spread across the state, most of Maine’s Guard members are part-time who have other jobs outside of their Guard duties. Still, Farnham is quick to point out that about 900 of the 3,000 guard members are in fact full-time positions.

“I don’t think everybody realizes that the Guard does offer both. Yes, we are a part-time force and it is an awesome opportunity to join and be part-time, live your civilian life, have your civilian job and be in your community,” he said. “When people think of the Guard, they think of the one weekend a month and two weeks a year. But there are a lot of great full-time jobs here, whatever status it happens to be. They’re all very good jobs for this region.”

Yet it’s the concept of your average citizen leading a normal civilian life who must suddenly be called to the service of others when needed – perhaps even at their own peril – and that’s what makes the National Guard unique in its role in society. It is that concept that impresses Gov. Mills.

“Our state has a long and proud history of citizens dedicated to the defense of our state and nation. Out of uniform, the members of the Maine National Guard are our neighbors, our community leaders, our friends, and loved ones. They are our teachers, coaches, first responders, doctors, and tradespeople. Each of them is an important resource for our communities and our state in times of need, and they are a critical pillar of support for our active and reserve military,” Mills said. “As we celebrate Maine’s Bicentennial and the many institutions that have shaped the history of our state, I hope all Maine people will join with me in recognizing and honoring the many contributions of our National Guard who have served and continue to serve.”

Last modified on Thursday, 12 March 2020 15:11


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