BANGOR – Nine members of the Maine Air National Guard are serving in Arizona and New Mexico as part of President Bush’s effort to provide additional security on the Mexican border.
The nine airmen, eight of whom are members of the 101st Air Refueling Wing of Bangor, volunteered to deploy to the southwestern border and are currently serving as part of the federal mission, Col. Don McCormack, chief of the joint staff for the Maine National Guard, said Tuesday.
“We will be a continual presence down there,” McCormack said, noting he would be surprised if more than 20-25 airmen served at any one time. The Guard has to balance its commitments at home with those on the border, he said.
In May, Bush announced National Guard units from across the country would spend at least a year assisting U.S. Border Patrol agents by building roads and fences and operating surveillance systems in order to combat drug trafficking, crime and illegal immigration. Border security will remain in the hands of local law enforcement.
The Maine National Guard intends to send approximately 700 soldiers and airmen to Arizona from April 14 to May 4, during which they will build roadways, fences and lookout stations near the southern border. The time spent in Arizona will act as the group’s annual training period, Maj. Gen. John Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said last month.
Libby and Gov. John Baldacci support the Guard’s efforts on the Mexican border, as long as it corresponds with each unit’s training mission, McCormack said Tuesday.
Until April, airmen and soldiers can volunteer to deploy, but the National Guard Bureau decides which Guard members are selected.
“A lot more than nine people have volunteered,” McCormack said, noting that approximately 30 have submitted their names for consideration.
In fact, three airmen from the 265th Combat Communications Squadron of South Portland returned to Maine in mid-September, after serving approximately six weeks on the border.
The nine airmen who volunteered recently were deployed at different times and could spend anywhere from two weeks to 60 days on the mission, McCormack said.
It is unknown whether the airmen are serving together as a unit, or whether the airmen who volunteered are considered full-time active duty military or part-time Guard members while deployed, he said. The identities of the airmen were not available.
The Maine Army National Guard has not officially sent any soldiers to the border, but whether any have volunteered on their own is unknown, Maj. Michael Backus, director of public affairs for the Guard said Tuesday.
“This is just something else to do,” McCormack said, when asked how the mission will change the state and federal responsibilities of the Maine National Guard.
“There are many opportunities to volunteer worldwide that we will monitor.”