September 29, 16:34 EDT

Virginia Guard receives airport security mission

BLACKSTONE, Va. - Maj. Gen. Claude Williams, the adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, met with National Guard commanders from throughout the Commonwealth to issue orders for the organization's latest homeland defense mission. Commanders gathered at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach yesterday to received their latest orders for the homeland security mission OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE - VIRGINIA. This latest mission will be augmenting airport security operations at Virginia's nine commercial service airports.

Williams pointed out that while it has responded professionally to the new homeland defense mission, the Virginia National Guard continues to carry out missions it had before September 11, 2001. He said that members of the 29th Infantry Division, including the 224th Aviation Battalion and 229th Engineer Battalion, were now in Bosnia performing their duties in support of the NATO Stabilization Force mission. He said that recruiting, equipping, maintaining and training the Virginia National Guard continues on so the organization is prepared to mobilize for its state and federal mission.

Colonel Michael Coleman, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations, Virginia Army National Guard said that soldiers selected for this newest mission would receive training at Fort Pickett in Blackstone this week. He anticipated training would begin this Wednesday with soldiers being on duty at affected airports by Saturday. Coleman indicated that the military training the soldiers had previously been through prepared them for many aspects of this new mission. He went on to say, however, that no Virginia National Guard soldier would be assigned to this mission without first undergoing training provided by representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration. He said this training would be provided to soldiers at Fort Pickett this week.

Coleman said FAA training would, among other things, cover airport security checkpoint operations, working with the public, screening passengers and handling deadly material. He also said that in addition to the training provided by the FAA and additional military training, soldiers selected for this assignment would undergo a police record check while at Fort Pickett. He indicated earlier that the safety of the traveling public and soldiers of the Virginia National Guard is too important to take chances with and that soldiers would be properly trained and screened before being assigned to airports. Coleman said the soldiers assigned to this mission might be on duty for the next four to six months.

Coleman said that other Virginia National Guard activities in support of the homeland defense mission included members of the 229th Military Police Company of Virginia Beach providing security to the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington and Fort Pickett in Blackstone. He also said that Virginia Army Guard chaplains and chaplain assistants are working at the Pentagon and the 192d Fighter Wing is flying homeland defense missions from its base in Richmond. He said that all Virginia National Guard facilities continue to maintain a high level of security as well.

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