Adkins said the deployment to the border would give pilots valuable experience.

"It supports the greater needs for the nation, but it also is a great opportunity when you get a new aircraft to get to put it in that environment where you get a lot of flight time on someone else's dime," he said. "We're doing a real-world mission, but we also get to enhance our pilot skills while we do it."

President George W. Bush first deployed the National Guard to the border in 2006. Maryland sent 120 soldiers to Arizona.

During the 60-day deployment, officials said, the Maryland Guard members reported more than 1,300 undocumented immigrants, resulting in the arrest of more than 750 and the seizure of more than 230 pounds of narcotics.

President Barack Obama sent more Guard troops in 2010. In the first year, officials said, they helped apprehend 17,887 illegal immigrants and seize 56,342 pounds of marijuana.

After the border deployment, Whelan said, the UH-72a will continue to enable the Maryland Guard to support agencies that do not have their own aircraft.

"If we have a tough enough event come up — a catastrophe, natural disaster, whatever — you basically need that kind of support," he said.

"As military efforts in the Middle East wind down, we're always looking for more missions of how we could serve the country. You know, 'What's our relevance?' And this aircraft and our homeland security battalions give us that relevance."

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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