The mission and scope of the Maine Air National Guard base in Bangor — the state’s only active military base and home to the 101st Air Refueling Wing — developed into something new in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“We’re a lot more active,” MAINEics pilot Lt. Col. Adam Jenkins, who is the 132nd Air Refueling Squadron commander, said recently.
After 9/11, the Bangor-based air refueling wing added approximately 150 full-time active-duty personnel to its roster and now handles or manages nearly 15 percent of the air refueling missions worldwide, according to Lt. Col. Debbie Kelley, a spokeswoman for 101st.
The MAINEiacs have 10 KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, which essentially are flying gas stations that can refuel other airplanes — a crucial function during wartime — and now play a key role in most military missions the U.S. undertakes, Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said last week.
“When America goes, we go,” Libby said. “That’s a big change for the Air Guard.”
The Bangor airbase was designated as a strategic reserve base before the terrorist attacks a decade ago and now is an operational reserve unit, he said.
“The Air Guard was seen as a 9-5 unit before,” MAINEiacs wing commander Col. John D’Errico said recently during an interview in his office. “We haven’t been a 9-5 for a long time.”
The Bangor airbase began operating the Northeast Tanker Task Force in 1994 with the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease International Tradeport in New Hampshire and after 9/11 added the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Pittsburgh, Pa., and an Air Force reserve unit and the 108th Air Refueling Wing at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
Bangor now coordinates and schedules refueling for all five air units, Kelley said.
The creation of the Maine Homeland Security Advisory Council, a local version of the national group, and tapping the state’s Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management also helped to ensure, “the left hand knows what’s going on with the right,” Libby said. “There was no Department of Homeland Security before.”
Anyone who has flown on a commercial airplane in the last decade knows all about increased security measures put in place by the Transportation Security Administration, which also was created in the wake of 9/11.
The fact that two of the 19 al-Qaida terrorists who hijacked the commercial airliners on 9/11 were cleared through security at Portland International Jetport, was hard on then Gov. Angus King, Libby said. The FBI contacted Libby at 3 a.m. Sept. 12, and he called the governor.
“Nobody was asleep at the switch, it was just that nobody had imagined” such an attack was possible, MAINEiacs pilot Lt. Col. Andy Marshall said recently.
Within hours of the attacks, security changed at the Bangor airbase, which is located beside Bangor International Airport, he said.
“It essentially was locked down for a while,” Marshall said.
“We started doing ID checks, vehicle searches, stuff we’ve been doing for 10 years but not before that happened,” added D’Errico, who was the 101st deputy wing commander at the time. “Now, It’s a requirement.”
The MAINEics are known worldwide for their efficiency and effectiveness, and that is why their mission continues 10 years after the terrorist attacks, Libby said.
“The nation is still at risk,” he said. “There are people who do not wish us well, and we must remain vigilant.”
That means the 101st also must be alert and on guard, Libby said, because, “The nation doesn’t go to war without the MAINEics.”