PORTLAND – As Jeff Draeger and his P-3 Orion crew flew over the Brunswick Naval Air Station on Monday night, Draeger could see the giant X’s that had been painted on the runways.

For Draeger, commanding officer of Patrol Squadron 26 — also known as the Tridents — it was a sad moment in the long history of the base, which has stood watch over the coast of Maine since World War II.

Draeger and his crew flew out of Brunswick on Nov. 28. Their six-month deployment took them to Central America, Europe and Africa, and on relief missions in Haiti.

As they flew in from Sicily on Monday night, their P-3 Orion couldn’t land in Brunswick because the base’s airfields have been closed since Jan. 29. The Navy is finishing its move of equipment and personnel out of Maine, and the base is scheduled to close in 2011.

That means Monday’s touchdown at the Portland International Jetport was likely the last time a P-3 Orion will ever land in Maine.

“I am really going to miss Brunswick,” said Draeger, a Cumberland resident whose next assignment will take him and his wife to Jacksonville, Fla.

Several crew members’ wives and children waited near the landing field Monday night for their loved ones to arrive.

The historic moment wasn’t lost on Jenn Smith, as she tried to manage her four young daughters. Their dad, Lt. Cmdr. Greg Smith, is a P-3 Orion navigator.

“That’s it. This is the last Navy plane coming into Maine,” she said.

Greg Smith has been assigned to the Pentagon, where he will work in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The family’s next move will take them from Brunswick to Arlington, Va.

Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Holmes of Portland held his sons, ages 6 and 2, in his arms.

Holmes and his wife, Cary, will move to Jacksonville. Their 6-year-old son, Conor, thinks the move is more about fun than duty.

“The first thing he told his daddy was, ‘Now we go to Disneyland,’” his mother said, moments after the crew landed.

Draeger said there will be a brief ceremony at the base today honoring the men and women who served overseas during the Tridents’ deployment.

All that remains in Brunswick are skeleton crews of military and civilian personnel. Spokesman John Ripley said the chapel is set to close in September.

The Navy Commissary in Topsham will remain open at least through March; Ripley said Maine’s congressional delegation is trying to keep it open until at least September 2011.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]