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Maryland Air Guard hosts civic leaders

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chris Schepers
  • 175th Wing

Martin State Air National Guard Base, Md. -- The Maryland Air National Guard hosted a group of civic leaders at Martin State Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland, March 31, 2023, to share information regarding the future of the Maryland’s 175th Wing and the base it calls home.

During the engagement, leaders from the Maryland Air National Guard, Maryland Aviation Administration, and Martin State Airport briefed local leaders on the status of the Martin State Airport runway renovation, 175th Wing’s efforts to secure a future fighter mission, and cyberspace and intelligence operations expansion.

Before the briefings, civic leaders had the opportunity to network and examine an A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft. Guests were able to speak with pilots and view the cockpit while learning about the Maryland Air National Guard and the A-10 mission.

After the networking hour, Maryland Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Drew Dougherty, assistant adjutant general – air, kicked off the briefings by welcoming the group to Martin State Airport, outlining the topics that would be discussed during the event, and emphasized that the Maryland Air National Guard and its members are a cornerstone in the community.

“I want to start off by saying ‘thank you’ for coming here tonight to learn about the Maryland Air National Guard and what the future looks like for us,” said Dougherty. “There are a lot of things that are happening that are impacting the Maryland Air National Guard and the Maryland Aviation Administration, and we wanted to talk to you about what we think is in the best interest of both organizations.”

Dougherty discussed the Air Force’s decision to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II from the Air Force inventory and how that may affect the wing. The Air Force will divest 42 A-10s in the coming year, although none of those aircraft will come from Maryland. But as the A-10 force continues to draw down, its impact will begin to be felt within the state over the next five to seven years, with the possibility that the 175th Wing could be forced to convert to a non-flying mission and move out of Martin State Airport.

“We are going to lose our A-10s, so we need to be in a position to compete for future fighters, whether it’s F-35s, F-15EXs, or perhaps F-16s as a stopgap until more advanced aircraft become available,” he said. “I will tell you that the ACC commander, Gen. Mark Kelly, has said the Air Force – which is the active duty, Guard, and reserve – needs 60 fighter squadrons to handle steady-state operations and right now the Air Force has 57.”

Dougherty added that the current trend is for the Air Force to drop to even lower – to 45 fighter squadrons – over the next decade.

“What we are trying to do now is position ourselves so that we can be in a place to take on future fighters,” Dougherty said. “It’s not only important for us, but it’s important for our nation and our homeland defense.”

Following Dougherty, Maryland Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Jori Robinson, the 175th Wing commander, explained the steps the Maryland Air National Guard, in partnership with the Maryland Aviation Administration and Martin State Airport, must take to give the Maryland Air National Guard the best shot at retaining a flying mission.

“When we found out the A-10s were going to be divested, we were also aware that we had a runway problem that needed to fixed,” said Robinson. “We can’t secure a future flying mission if we don’t have a proper runway, so we went to our friends at MAA and Lockheed Martin to dust off the runway renovation plans from 1991, and in 2018 we started pushing heavily to secure funds to fix our runway so that we would be in the conversation for a follow-on mission.”

Robinson continued by explaining the unique capability the Maryland Air National Guard brings to the next generation of air dominance through its combination of combat-experienced pilots and seasoned cyber and intelligence operators.

“There is a very unique opportunity here for the Air Force because of the capabilities that we bring to bear in Maryland,” said Robinson, referring to the frequent joint operations and exercises involving both A-10s and our cyber and intelligence operators. “The future as laid out by the secretary of the Air Force is the air dominance thought process – a system of systems, weapon systems that will not only require combat pilots but also cyber operators and intelligence operators all working together.”

Robinson emphasized that the future envisioned by the secretary of the Air Force is current-day reality at the 175th Wing. But she also voiced concern that that synergy could be lost if the wing is unable to secure a follow-on flying mission.

“We are doing that right now. We are leading the way, we have the Airmen that are trained to do this, to marry these capabilities of cyber, intel, and combat flying operations,” she said. “My biggest concern is that we could miss a golden opportunity if we don’t find a gap flying mission for Martin State so we don’t lose that exquisite capability. Because if we lose a flying mission there really won’t be any coming back to it in the future.”

The engagement ended with briefings from Mr. Paul Shank, Maryland Aviation Administration planning and engineering chief, and Mr. Harold Fowler, Martin State Airport operations and maintenance chief, on the partnership between their organizations and the Maryland Air National Guard and the work that they have put in toward securing a future flying mission for the 175th Wing.

“We are working with the best consultants that we have in the planning and engineering division and our CEO has given us the green light for this project [runway renovation]. Our goal is to have the project ready to go this year,” said Mr. Shank. “If it wasn’t for the Air National Guard and the Department of Defense funds, the rehabilitation of the runway would have taken ten years of incremental grant funding. So this is a phenomenal strategic partnership and we wouldn’t have been able to get this project moving forward without it.”

Following questions from the visiting dignitaries, Dougherty wrapped up the event by reiterating the importance of partnerships while moving the Maryland Air National Guard toward a future fighter mission.

“In my 15 years here I’ve never seen this level of cooperation with everyone in lockstep and everyone understanding what we are trying to do,” said Dougherty. “I believe we have a good plan and good strategic initiatives and certainly think if we get to where we want to be we can support where the Air Force is going.”