MARYLAND

Maryland Air National Guard cuts faced with new Pentagon budget

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The mission for the Maryland Air National Guard has always been crucial. From assisting with natural disaster recovery efforts at home to dropping supplies and evacuating wounded troops abroad, the Guard has seen and done it all for decades.

The Guard's fleet of modern C-27s could be on the Pentagon's chopping block. (Photo: Kris Van Cleave)

However, the Air National Guard's brand new birds - a fleet of C-27s - are on the Department of Defense's endangered species list, and the future of one of the oldest units of its kind in the United States is threatening its future.

The Air Force has recommended steep cuts to the National Guard due to an ever-shrinking Pentagon budget, and in Maryland, that means the potential loss of the Guard's modern air fleet.

"We all have come to know and love the C-27," Capt. John Hensarling, a pilot in the Maryland Air National Guard, said. "We all enjoy flying them."

In the Free State, the loss of these plans would leave the Air Guard unable to serve troops overseas or respond to domestic emergencies, like they did for Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, or more recently, last year's devastating California wildfires.

PHOTOS: See pics of the C-27.

"I think it's a huge loss in its capability to respond to any kind of natural disaster within the state of Maryland," Air National Guard Col. Thomas Hans said.

Last week, the nation's governors and each state's top National Guard general sent letters demanding that the military rethink a proposal that see the Guard absorbing 59 percent of aircraft budget cuts. Air National Guard units, in fact, make up just 6 percent of the Air Force budget.

That's a reality that Capt. Paul Mercier and 280 other pilots, flight crew members and mechanics are finding tough to swallow.

"It would be bittersweet to come back and have to turn these over," Mercier said. "I'm torn between chasing another aircraft if this was to go away, or stay here where I've created a family and a home."

If the cuts go through, those hundreds of Maryland Air National Guard members would be retained to be a part of a ground-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unit.

As for the C-27s, if they were to go away, the bulk of the state's aircraft would be aging A-10 fighters. And while they wait, several members of the Guard are preparing for their spring deployment to Afghanistan. By the time they get back, a final decision on the fleet may have already been made.

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