Guard Flexes Muscle in the War Against Terrorism
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va., March 26, 2003 More than 141,000 members of the Army and Air National Guard were mobilized, placed on alert or identified for possible mobilization by March 24, five days after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, National Guard Bureau officials have reported.
That is about 30 percent of the National Guard's total force, they said. It's also nearly twice as many guardsmen as were mobilized for the 1991 Persian Gulf War, they added.
All told, more than 78,000 Army Guard and 18,000 Air Guard members have been mobilized to help wage the war against terrorism at home and abroad in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. That's over 20,000 more guardsmen than were mobilized for the Gulf War.
President Bush, a former Texas Air National Guard fighter pilot, announced the start of military operations "to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger" on March 19.
On the home front, National Guard troops helped tighten security at nuclear power plants and other critical sites after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the national threat level to code orange on March 17, days before the attacks on Iraq began. Guardsmen also helped federal officers maintain security along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. Code orange, indicating a high risk of attack, is just one level below the highest threat level, which is red.
The California National Guard's 9th Civil Support Team from Los Alamitos supported the Los Angeles Police Department's efforts to beef up security March 23 for the 75th Academy Awards in Hollywood.
The 22-member team was on standby to detect biological, chemical or radiological elements should a weapon of mass destruction have shattered the evening. Team members also performed sweeps and other detection duties, said Lt. Col. Terry Knight, a Guard spokesman. That team has previously served during two World Series, a Super Bowl and during last year's Winter Olympics in Utah, he added.
An undisclosed number of guardsmen were in New York City supporting the police department's efforts to keep rail stations, bridges and tunnels secure and open to the public, a New York Guard spokesman explained.
The Associated Press reported that National Guard troops were dispatched to the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the nation's largest, near Phoenix, in the wake of reports that it may have been a target for terrorists. More than six states have sent guardsmen to nuclear power plants, according to a nuclear power industry survey.
Preparations to wage war with Iraq unless that country agreed to disarm prompted the call-ups that have steadily increased since the start of this year. The National Guard is providing more than half the reserve component troops who have responded.
The number of Army and Air Guard people alerted for or participating in the war against terrorism vaulted from nearly 52,000 on Jan. 10 to nearly 99,000 by the following Monday, Guard Bureau officials reported. That was the largest Guard force since the terrorist attacks on America 16 months earlier.
The total first surpassed 100,000 on Jan. 29 and had climbed to approximately 120,000 by Feb. 21. As of mid- March, the number stood at 141,057.
The Guard has weighed in with some of its premier units, and some states and territories have contributed heavily to the cause.
About 200 members of the F-16 fighter squadron in the District of Columbia Air Guard's 113th Wing departed Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Feb. 21 for an undisclosed desert location. The wing has earned nine consecutive Air Force outstanding unit awards and the Spaatz Trophy as the Air Guard's top flying unit for 2002.
"We want to make sure that Sept. 11 never happens in our backyard again, so we have to take care of business elsewhere," reasoned one of the wing's veteran airmen.
More than 150 members of the Alaska Air Guard's 176th Wing in Anchorage, including members of the elite 210th Rescue Squadron, received mobilization orders but had not been flown out of Alaska by the second day of the campaign in Iraq, a Guard spokesman explained.
Puerto Rico has contributed half its Guard force to the war against terrorism. That island territory's Army Guard force numbers more than 8,500 citizen-soldiers and its Air Guard force includes about 1,300 people. Since January, 4,195 Army Guard soldiers and 690 Air Guard personnel have been called to active duty.
(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell works for the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.)