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Bittersweet ending as last squadron leaves Brunswick Naval Air Station

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Bittersweet ending as last squadron leaves Brunswick Naval Air Station

BRUNSWICK — It was like he didn't really want to go.

But, eventually, he had to.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Erik Cyre, of Patrol Squadron 26, taxied his P-3 to the south end of Brunswick Naval Air Station Runway 1 on Sunday, Nov. 22, at noon. He was scheduled to leave shortly thereafter.

But he taxied back to recheck a mechanical detail on the aircraft. He did it again a few minutes later, delaying for about an hour this time.

Finally, on his third try, at 2:21 pm, Cyre took off, headed ultimately for Africa.

Being delayed due to technical difficulties is common for P-3s, most of which were originally built in the 1960s and '70s. Yet, as the one of the last three planes to leave BNAS, the delayed departure was bittersweet.

Squadron 26 – or VP-26, as the Navy calls it – is the last squadron to leave the base. With BNAS scheduled to shut down by summer 2011, the operational facets of the Navy's mission are all but gone. The airfield is scheduled to shut down in January.

For some VP-26 sailors this is a big move. Others are looking ahead to challenges of new work in new locations. A few have done it so many times before it felt like a repeat of the same old thing.

"I'm single," said Petty Officer Craig Alfred. "It's not a huge thing for me. I'm looking forward to seeing the change in operational tempo."

This deployment will send VP-26 sailors to Africa, the Mediterranean and Central America. The mission itself involves work similar to that VP-26 has done in the past: communications and targeting support to aircraft carriers; drug interdiction, and surveillance of vessels traveling on and below the surface of the water. Yet, instead of returning to Brunswick, most sailors and planes will come be home-ported in Jacksonville, Fla. Others will transfer out of the unit to other places.

Bradley Toner's dad, Lt. Cmdr Brian Toner, flies out next Sunday, Nov. 28, aboard one of the last two planes to leave. Bradley, 13, said, "We've done this before." He was, however, excited about moving to Washington, D.C., where the family will soon move.

His mother, Brenda, said, "We're sad to be leaving the area. It's a small-town feel, and we've made life-long friends here."

Brian agreed. Even with this being his sixth deployment over a 22-year career, he said, "It never gets easier. It's harder as they get older," he said, gesturing to his two children, Brianna, 11, and Bradley.

Cmdr. Jim Hoke said this departure may be felt more tangibly by the community than prior ones.

"I think that if I stood out on the corner and asked people if the base was closing, 98 percent of them would say yes," he said. "But I don't think it's sunk in yet."

VP-26 employs about 600 active-duty sailors. Most of them have already made plans to leave. In 2005, when closure was announced, Brunswick was home to five squadrons and a variety of support services with a total more than 4,000 sailors living in the Mid-Coast region. VP-26 is the last to leave.

Now, there are fewer than 400 sailors working on base and each week a few more check out, headed for other commands or leaving the Navy for civilian life or retirement.

Despite looking ahead to the deployment, Petty Officer Craig Alfred said, " I'll miss Maine though, that's for sure."