HAGERSTOWN — "Not since World War II has so much been asked of the Guard, with our deployments overseas and then the requirements here," Adkins said during an interview after he toured the armory.
In addition to assignments close to home, such as supporting the presidential Inauguration and assisting police and emergency responders during last winter's heavy snow storms, the Maryland National Guard also has units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even some headed to Africa to drill wells, Adkins said.
Despite frequent deployments, recruitment has been easy in recent years, with the Maryland National Guard "constantly bumping up against" its maximum number of members, which is about 5,000, Adkins said.
Those based in Washington County include about 22 members of the 581st Troop Command and about 138 members of the Troop C, 1st Squadron, 158th Cavalry Regiment, which specialized in long-range surveillance, said Lt. Col. Charles S. Kohler, public affairs officer for the Maryland Military Department.
"We have people that actually volunteer to go back for more deployments," Adkins said. "...I'm amazed at how the troops keep giving."
He attributed their willingness to endure repeat deployments to the fact that, almost 10 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, most current members signed up knowing the current environment and expecting to serve overseas.
For these soldiers, the real adjustment will occur in the coming years as military requirements — and federal defense spending — cycle back to lower levels, Adkins said.
"They've lived in an environment of lots of resources," he said. "So, we've got to make sure we're constantly emphasizing that money's not always going to be there."
As deployments become less frequent, the Guard's focus will return to training, and units will have to manage funds wisely to ensure the quality of that training does not suffer, Adkins said.
Adkins said his visit was an opportunity to make sure standards of maintenance and cleanliness were being maintained and to sit down and talk with the soldiers about anything on their minds.
"I can sit in my office, and I can read my reports, but I may not have a good feel unless I get out here and see what's going on," he said.
Adkins also took the opportunity to present two local guardsmen with his "challenge coin," a medallion given out to recognize soldiers for a job well done.
He presented the coins to Staff Sgt. Michael Winters and Warrant Officer 1 James Massey, who, during last winter's snow storms, dug out and repaired Humvees that became stuck while in use for patrols.
Reflecting on the dedication of today's Guard members in the face of obligations at home and abroad, Adkins said he is "extremely proud."
A former Maryland secretary of veterans affairs, Adkins said he had worked with many distinguished soldiers who fought in World War II.
"But I tell you, the commitment, the professionalism of those who serve today is as good as the — Greatest Generation' that we refer to," Adkins said. "And the torch has been passed, I can tell you that."