Guard bolsters security at Texas airports

Oct. 5, 2001 at 1:15 PM
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DALLAS, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- About 400 members of the Texas Army National Guard were posted at 27 airports across the state Friday as part of President Bush's plan to increase security for the flying public in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Many of the Texas soldiers were selected for the duty because of their peacekeeping experience last year in Bosnia, according to Lt. Col. Robert Luna. About 800 troops of the 49th Armored Division were called up for eight months of duty in Kosovo.

"A lot of these soldiers have experience in this kind of work and they were specially selected for this assignment," Luna said. "They are among those in the airports."

The armed Guard members, in camouflage combat uniforms, were an unusual sight for passengers arriving at Texas airports early Friday. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, they quietly marched into terminals in formation and then took their posts at terminals.

The enlisted men were armed with M-16 rifles and the officers carried 9mm Beretta sidearms.

The priority was the larger Texas airports, such as DFW, Dallas Love Field, Austin Bergstrom Airport, George Bush International and William P. Hobby in Houston, and San Antonio International Airport. But Guard members were assigned to all commercial airports.

The troops received training from the Federal Aviation Administration this week in armories at Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio. The Guard would not disclose the details of the training or figures on how many soldiers were assigned to each airport.

At DFW, Maj. Keil Hubert said Guard members were posted at every terminal in the airport.

"We are here to augment the existing civilian security infrastructure, all elements of screening," he said. "We will stand side by side with federal, state and local authorities, and provide to them a very experienced, extraordinarily well-trained and highly-visible military presence."

Guard officials said the troops were called up for up to six months or until the federal government assumes supervision of security at the nation's airports. Private companies hired by the airlines currently conduct the screening of passengers.

DFW airport and many other airports around the nation want the federal government to take a large role in airport security.

The DFW airport board Thursday approved spending about $1 million to further strengthen security. About $650,000 will be spent to hire off-duty police to patrol truck entrances leading to aircraft ramps, a job previously performed by the airlines. Additional hand-held mental detectors and security barriers have been purchased by the airport.

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