Alaskan Scouts Guard Anchorage Airfield
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 18, 2003 An Alaska Army National Guard infantry scout who has more heart than body has proven to himself and his older brother that he has what it takes to help keep America safe from terrorists and anyone else who would do it harm.
Spc. Lance Cagle, who turned 30 on March 9, stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 120 pounds soaking wet. He is considered one of the best soldiers in his outfit because he was virtually hand-picked to serve on a security force that protect the compact Kulis Air National Guard Base here beside the Anchorage International Airport.
"I joined the military because my older brother said I couldn't do it, that I wouldn't make it through basic training. I had to prove him wrong," said Cagle, who began basic combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., just before his 27th birthday and weighing 112 pounds. He has clearly had the last laugh.
"The military has made me a better person," he said, while checking identification cards and helping inspect every fifth vehicle that rolled through the Kulis main gate in the predawn chill of a recent March morning.
He is proud to be part of an exclusive team.
Thirty-three Guardsmen from Charlie Company of the 2nd Battalion, 207th Infantry Group, generally known as "the scouts," began working with and filling in for overworked members of the Air National Guard's security team for this base on Jan. 31.
Providing security for "critical sites" is something scouts now do, it was explained, and Cagle had no qualms about doing that job for this year and maybe longer during the war against terrorism.
"I was on Noble Eagle duty last winter at civilian airports in Anchorage and Dead Horse," he said. "That was very interesting, so I wanted to get in on this mission."
National Guard troops were pulled from the nation's civilian airports last spring as an army of newly trained members of the Transportation Security Administration stepped in to inspect passengers and their carry-on items at security checkpoints across the land.
Last December, however, the Defense Department asked for 9,000 Army Guardsmen to help protect the people and planes at 163 Air Force bases for as long as two years because active duty and reserve Air Force security force personnel were being stretched to the limit.
Charlie Company was called to beef up the Kulis security force because that Guard unit is based in Anchorage and the citizen-soldiers would not have to leave their homes and families, said 1st Lt. Jared Wandell, a state police detective now serving as the scout detachment's commander.
The additional manpower, he said, has made it possible for Air Guard security force people to get their additional training to remain proficient as well as to support the security force at nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base.
"It's 130 acres with a lot of iron on the ramp" is one way Kulis Air Guard Base has been described. It is home to the 176th Wing's fleet of C-130 cargo planes. It is also the home base for the planes and helicopters frequently used by the Alaska Air Guard's 210th Rescue Squadron, which is considered one of the far north's premier search and rescue outfits.
Eighty-five members of Charlie Company volunteered for the 33 positions, Wandell said.
"That made it possible for us to select people whose civilian jobs or college educations would be least affected and to pick the people who were the best for this mission," he said. "These are the guys who are always at drill and who do well on the physical fitness test and weapons qualification. We got the cream of the crop."
Some scouts re-enlisted, and one decided not to retire after 20 years, so they could be part of the team, he explained.
"It's kind of exciting. This is a real reason to be in the Guard," said Spc. Chris Mattson, who served for three years in the active Army. "Someday, I'll look back on this and be most glad that I did it."
The scouts work three 12-hour shifts, plus an hour or so of physical training, and then they have three days off. The job includes examining IDs, inspecting vehicles, checking the buildings, patrolling the base in vehicles and watching the aircraft as they are led to their parking places on the flight line.
It may sound routine, but it was important for the Army Guard scouts to put their best foot forward on Air Guard turf, insisted Sgt. 1st Class Mark Dudek, the detachment's top sergeant.
"The first impressions are the lasting impressions," said Dudek, who stands tall in his camouflage uniform and highly polished boots. Looking sharp and reporting for duty on time are among the standards he sets for the other citizen- soldiers. "I told them this would not be an easy year, because the Air Guard would be looking at them every day."
(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office in Arlington, Va.)