September 29, 16:29 EDT

Planning for airport security mission continues

BLACKSTONE, Va. - As news reports indicated that the US military was pursuing terrorists in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, the adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, and members of his staff continued to work with federal and state officials to protect commercial service airports here in Virginia. Williams and members of his staff met with state and federal officials, including representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, on Friday to develop plans to place members of the Virginia Army National Guard at the nine commercial aviation airports here in Virginia.

Airports where the Army National Guard will patrol include Washington Dulles International, Charlottsville-Albemarle, Shenandoah Valley, Roanoke Regional, Lynchburg Regional, Richmond International, Newport News / Williamsburg, Norfolk International, and Washington Reagan National. Williams said this action was being taken in response to President Bush's request to the governors to call the National Guard into service to provide airport security.

Sources at the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D. C. indicated the National Guard would be used over the next four to six months to provide a highly visible, armed deterrent at airport security checkpoints. The National Guard would actively assist in the screening of airline passengers at airport security checkpoints and to assist local law enforcement officials in providing airport security.

The overall mission of the National Guard would be to assist in restoring the public's confidence in the safety of commercial air travel, augment airport security and law enforcement operations and allow the Federal government to establish strengthened law enforcement capability in airports. According National Guard Bureau officials, members of the National Guard ordered to duty to protect airports would remain under the control of the governors and be subject to state laws.

Colonel Michael Coleman, assistant chief of staff for operations, Virginia Army National Guard, said that members of the Virginia Army National Guard would be trained to work at airport security checkpoints in the affected airports. He indicated the airports were currently being assessed to determine the number of soldiers necessary to accomplish the task. He said that coordination was also being made with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a training program for the soldiers assigned to the mission.

Coleman said that efforts were ongoing with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a training program that would include legal and operational aspects of the mission, checkpoint screening of airline passengers and handling of deadly items. Military aspects of the training for the soldiers assigned to this mission would include weapons training and qualification. Once the training program, which will last three to five days, is finalized and in place, the Virginia Army National Guard will beginning ordering soldiers to duty. Coleman anticipated this would take place within the next few days.

Coleman also indicated the soldiers ordered to duty would come from Virginia Army National Guard units located in close proximity to the affected airports. He said the situation is very dynamic and is developing as planning continues. He emphasized that no member of the Virginia Army National Guard would be placed at an airport security checkpoint until that soldier was fully trained and qualified for the task. He said that the safety of the public and the soldiers of the Virginia Army National Guard is simply too important and this mission, including preparation for it, must be done correctly. Coleman said that as additional information became available it would be made public.

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