Guardsmen Help America Regain Confidence After 9-11
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2002 Americans began their recovery from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when they saw National Guardsmen keeping watch at airports, according to a top Defense Department official.
Craig W. Duehring, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said the reason is the National Guard affects everyone when it takes a stand on something. The Guard is composed of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and friends who come from all walks of life and segments of communities across the nation, he remarked.
"I don't remember an event in my life that affected me the way Sept. 11 did," said Duehring, a veteran Vietnam War combat pilot and holder of the Silver Star medal for valor. "It was felt throughout the country. People were afraid, very much concerned and tended to stay at home.
The guardsmen helped restore public confidence in aviation transportation, he said. At the request of President Bush, state governors assigned more than 7,000 National Guardsmen to provide 434 airports across the country with additional, highly visible security.
"We needed to reassure the American public that it was safe to go about their business. The best way to do that was to use the National Guard. Their visible presence in the airports reassured the American public that it was OK to continue their lives," Duehring said.
More than 800 guardsmen are also working with U.S. Border Patrol officers in nine states to monitor and secure the U.S. northern and southern borders, he noted.
"Perhaps there are groups still in our own country waiting for the right time to strike once again," the retired Air Force colonel said. "It will take a combined effort of all of us -- the active component, National Guard and Reserve, family members, employers. We must link together as a team. And we have to be in for the long haul. We have to support each other. We have to be patient. We have to try to promote the general safety for all of America."
The Guard and Reserve are playing significant roles in other missions as well. Duehring said the Guard can maintain its readiness for wartime missions even as it handles homeland security and anti-terrorist missions.
When first called up for duty, guardsmen were originally scheduled to spend up to six months at airports and on the borders. The airport and border security mobilization was extended by a few months recently and now is slated to end in late June, he said. Guardsmen will stand down in three large increments in coming weeks, he added.
"We're buying time for federal agencies to hire additional personnel to train to take over the positions that are occupied by guardsmen," Duehring said. The agencies, he noted, didn't have enough people to cope with their missions in the face of increased threats.
Since Colonial times, he said, the mobilization of the National Guard has always signaled the resolve of America to defeat an enemy, protect families, homes and the American way of life. Consequently, he continued, "It's essential that the National Guard and Reserves are used in the fight against terrorism and homeland security."
How the Pentagon and other agencies will shape the homeland security mission in the future is unknown, he said. "I don't think anybody has the final answer on what this organization will look like, how many people will be assigned to it and, in great detail, what their roles will be. But I feel the National Guard will play a crucial role in guarding our homeland, as it always has."
He pointed out that the National Guard and Reserve today are crucial members of America's total military force. Launching an operation of any size would be impossible without them, he asserted. Consequently, guardsmen and reservists are on active duty overseas everywhere there are American troops, at all levels of operations, and in the air, on land and at sea.
Employers and family members have not made major complaints about the amount of time guardsmen and reservists are deployed. "People seem to be pretty happy with what we're doing," Duehring said. "We're very proactive in working with the employers in trying to resolve problems before they come up. We've been remarkable successful."
He credited families' support to efforts by family readiness centers throughout the country. The centers have an online family readiness tool kit to help families during the transition period. An online and printed guide helps members determine what they need to do before they're mobilized. A smaller pamphlet for the family anticipates problems they might encounter.
"In some cases, I'm sure family readiness centers are able to assist the families financially or help them plan for the problems they might have," he said. "We're working in debt management areas, trying to help people restructure their debt."
Duehring highlighted the Coast Guard Reserve because, he said, it's normally so low-key. "We have more than 2,000 members of the Coast Guard Reserve on active duty all around this country," he noted. "These people are among the first to volunteer for active duty. In fact, they had so many volunteers that they had to demobilize some later on.
"It's a remarkable show of cooperation, especially between the Coast Guard and the Navy and between the Coast Guard and civilian agencies," Duehring said. "Sometimes we tend to look overseas to our American fighting men and women and forget about the folks closer to home."