A changing of the guard has come at the top of the District and Maryland national guards.

Maj. Gen. Warren Freeman, who has commanded the District of Columbia National Guard since 1995, retired from the Guard and has taken a position as commandant of the military program at Forestville Military Academy, a Prince George's County high school that is being transformed into one of the nation's few coeducational public military academies.

"Sometimes you need to move on and let new ideas and people step to the plate," said Freeman, 56.

In Maryland, Maj. Gen. James Fretterd, who had served as adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard for 17 years, has been ousted as commander by the state's new governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). After Ehrlich's election in November, Fretterd began hearing through the grapevine that the governor-elect wanted him out. "It was a shock to me," said Fretterd, 72. "It's got me baffled. To take a commander out in the middle of a war, with Iraq looming on the horizon, I couldn't believe it."

A news release from Ehrlich's office announcing Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill's nomination as the new adjutant general of Maryland, with responsibilities including the National Guard, included no mention of Fretterd. Ehrlich's press office did not respond to requests for comment.

The adjutant general serves at the governor's prerogative, and several Maryland Democratic officials said it was not surprising that Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades, would clean house.

It probably did not help that Fretterd was seen as having ties with former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Ehrlich's opponent in the November election.

Freeman, a graduate of Eastern High School in the District, was attending Howard University when he enlisted in the D.C. National Guard in 1966, looking for a way to stay in school and not be drafted for the Vietnam War.

Freeman was working as an installer for C & P Telephone in April 1968 when he got word from his office to report for duty with the National Guard. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated that day, and rioters had taken to the streets of Washington. Freeman joined National Guard units trying to restore order in the city.

He stayed in the guard, rising through command, and was appointed commanding general of the D.C. National Guard by President Bill Clinton in December 1995.

A few weeks after he took office, Washington was hit with a winter storm in January 1996 that left some areas under two feet of snow. Freeman ordered 14 all-terrain Humvee military vehicles along with drivers to help police officers move through unplowed city streets.

The years that followed were eventful for the D.C. Guard, culminating on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck and D.C. Air National Guard F-16s took to the air to patrol the skies over Washington, while D.C. Army National Guard troops set up in the streets of the District to provide security.

No one has yet been appointed to replace Freeman as head of the D.C. National Guard, but Brig. Gen. David Wherley, commander of the 113th Wing, is serving as acting commander of the D.C. Guard.

Military Matters appears in the Extra twice each month. Steve Vogel can be reached at vogels@washpost.com.