When its moment came, the Maryland Defense Force seized it.
Physicians, nurses, emergency medical technicians and a dentist from the state's volunteer militia joined their National Guard colleagues to minister to Baltimore's sick and homeless aboard the former hospital ship USS Sanctuary.
Operation Guard Care, during two weeks in September, offered the first chance for the Defense Force to strut its stuff in public and the members responded well, said Col. George H. Greenstein, 74, a semiretired orthopedist who commands its recently created medical detachment.
The state's least-known military unit, the Maryland Defense Force is the descendant of the Baltimore militia, which mobilized 1814 to defend the city against British invasion.
For Operation Guard Care, 62 Defense Force members -- from as far away as Cumberland and Cambridge -- contributed almost 1,500 man-hours of medical service and work as patient escorts and military police aboard the ship docked in Fairfield, Dr. Greenstein said.
Brig. Gen. Philip H. Pushkin, a dentist who is Maryland's deputy assistant adjutant general, coordinated Guard Care, which provided services for 930 people over the two weeks.
"Guard Care was a great morale booster for our people," Dr. Greenstein said. "They enjoyed it, and they want to be called again. It was our chance to show them [the National Guard] that we're worth something."
The Defense Force volunteers, who meet twice a month, receive nothing for their service.
"We get nothing but the glory," Dr. Greenstein said with a wry smile, "no pay, uniforms, no transportation, no meals, and we're not armed either."
With headquarters at the Pikesville Armory, the Defense Force has 320 active and inactive members in "battalions" across the state, said Brig. Gen. M. Hall Worthington, a businessman who assumed command last month from Brig. Gen. Frank R. Barranco Sr., a World War II line officer who became a physician. Volunteers ages 17 to 70 are accepted.
Older people, such as Dr. Greenstein, who can offer a special service, may request a waiver.
"I'm willing to stay as long as I'm physically able and they need me," said Dr. Greenstein, a Pikesville resident and twice-wounded combat veteran of World War II.
He retired from the Army Reserve at 65 as a major, but joined the Defense Force last year at the invitation of Dr. Barranco, to work to fill out its medical units.
Dr. Greenstein said he accepted "because the Defense Force has potentially a great deal of good to offer the community at no cost. I think it's good there are people who are willing to do this."
Some join because they want to give some service but are too old, have physical limitations or civilian employment that precludes joining the National Guard, Dr. Greenstein said.
General Worthington, a retired National Guard colonel, said he was pleased at the Defense Force's contribution to Operation Guard Care.
The physicians are older people who have more time to devote to such public service "and they're anxious to do more," the force commander said.
He said the Defense Force, top-heavy with officers, is trying to recruit skilled younger men and women as enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers.
For his unit, Dr. Greenstein wants not only physicians and nurses but dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists, emergency medical technicians and medical aides.
L "They need have no military service, but it helps," he said.
Among its various community activities, General Worthington said, the Defense Force works in the mentoring portion of the National Guard's Operation Challenge, which helps teen-agers earn their high school diplomas and a start toward productive lives.
The Defense Force provides medical backup for "My Life, My Choice," a program for at-risk youngsters and their families which is held at Camp Fretterd, the National Guard post in northwestern Baltimore County.
Activated initially as the Maryland State Guard in 1917, during World War I, the unit was re-established in 1941 for World War II.
Disbanded in 1946, the State Guard was reactivated in 1983 and in 1988 was renamed the Maryland Defense Force.
It backs up the National Guard and, in the event of a full Guard mobilization, the Defense Force would assume such duties as armory security and providing auxiliary military police for civil emergencies.
People in health-care fields interested in the Defense Force medical units across Maryland may call Dr. Greenstein at (410) 484-8088. General recruiting information is available from the headquarters recruiting detachment at (410) 653-6792.