Maine’s foremost citizen-soldier retired on Saturday. Brig. Gen. Donald Marden of Waterville passed the flag symbolizing command of the Maine Army National Guard to Brig. Gen. Eugene Richardson of Kents Hill.
Most of Maine’s 2,665 Army Guardmembers marched down Western Avenue in Augusta to Capitol Park where they witnessed the change of command. It was the most impressive display of the Army Guard’s spirit and strength seen in this state in a long time.
That it was held on a peaceful Saturday afternoon, that the men and women in camouflage uniforms were not marching to or returning from another Desert Storm made it a significant end to the military career of a man who set the example for Maine’s part-time soldiers for eight years.
Much has changed about the militia since officers wore swords and men grabbed muskets from their mantels to face the British. The Guard has evolved into a complex organization in this state and in this nation.
There are two groups within the organization — the full-time people and the part-time people.
Maine’s 451 full-time Army Guard workers form the skeleton that supports the entire body. They deal with the brass in Washington. They do what it takes to make sure Maine’s Army Guardmembers get paid and get fed and get the clothing and equipment they need to do the military jobs.
The rest of us — the 2,214 other corporals and colonels — are part-timers, M-day soldiers. We serve for a weekend a month and 15 additional days each year.
Until last Saturday, Donald Marden had been one of Maine’s M-day soldiers since 1964. He had been our commander, our general, since 1986.
He is a successful attorney in Waterville, the city of his birth. He and his lovely wife Ann have four sons. He has made the time for the demands of his part-time job, this business of soldiering, and he has expected the rest of us to do the same.
After a few years, after anyone has gotten some rank, being a M-day soldier is not a bad deal. The pay and the insurance and medical and educational benefits are pretty good. So are the PX privileges.
It can also be a pain in the neck. There is more to this M-day soldiering than there is to most other part-time jobs. We have to pass the Army’s physical fitness test every year. That means doing push-ups and sit-ups and running to stay in shape. We have to watch our weight because we get weighed twice a year. We have to qualify with a rifle or pistol every year at the range. We have to stay proficient in common soldiers tasks such as drinking water through gas masks and arming dummy claymore mines. We have to do our basic Guard jobs such as setting up radio antennas, cooking for a company, or repairing bulldozers.
Most M-day soldiers are not nearly so concerned about being mobilized to fight a foreign foe as we are with doing all the things we have to do to stay in. Those who do not pass the tests are asked to leave.
General Marden did not cut his M-day soldiers any slack. He expected us to meet the standards because he met them. He did his push-ups when we did our push-ups. He kept himself trim. He qualified with his pistol. And he drank water thorugh his gas mask. He did his duty and he paid his dues with the rest of us.
Much has been made of his leadership during recent years when hundreds of Maine Army Guardsmen were mobilized for the war in the Middle East and when a 600-member engineer battalion was eliminated from this state’s force. To be sure, Donald Marden was an imposing leader and an articulate spokesman during those trying times.
His true legacy, however, is the no-nonsense example he set for a lot of people like me who strive to be good part-time soldiers day after day and month after month. We have passed our tests and done our jobs and carried on during these past eight years because that is what our general did.
Bob Haskell is the sports editor at the Bangor Daily News and a sergeant first class in the Maine Army National Guard.