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National Guard Troops Get Kudos For Airport Security Duty

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2002 – After pulling almost eight month's of security duty at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a detachment of Virginia citizen-soldiers is preparing to go home.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army National Guard 29th Infantry (Light) Division troops Sgt. Charles Meyer, Staff Sgt. Eric Jennings, and Cpl. James Davis admire their certificates of achievement May 10 provided by Christopher U. Browne, vice president and manager of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The National Guardsmen are preparing to leave Reagan-National Sunday after almost eight month's of security duty at the airport. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Since Oct. 5, 2001, soldiers from five Virginia-based elements of the Army National Guard's 29th Infantry (Light) Division have been providing a comforting presence for air travelers, while also maintaining security oversight at the airport's security checkpoints. The Guard troops will leave the airport Sunday.

Christopher U. Browne, National Airport's vice-president and manager, thanked Guard troops. "Your mere presence at the checkpoints no doubt averted would-be criminals and terrorists who have, presumably, chosen other paths of less resistance," Browne said.

"How do you measure the confidence that the traveling public enjoyed as a consequence of your presence and care?" he rhetorically asked.

Browne noted that without the National Guard's assistance at Reagan National and at other airports nationwide, "the aviation industry would not have recovered to the extent that it has.

"You have been absolutely instrumental in restoring the nation's confidence in this critical mode of transportation," he said, adding, "I truly hope we can maintain that confidence in your absence."

After the ceremony, Browne shook the soldiers' hands and presented all with certificates of achievement.

Detachment commander 1st Lt. Patrick D. Combs noted that Virginia State Police would replace his troops. Federal civilian employees, he added, will take over from the state police in November.

Troops from other 29th units have performed similar missions at the Commonwealth's other major airports, Combs said, while Guard members from other states watched their airports. The 29th also has troop units in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Combs had nothing but praise for his soldiers, their noncommissioned officers, federal and local law enforcement officials, and airport management. Combs noted in his remarks that the airport mission was very different than typical Army tasks, as he and his troops were "used to being out in the woods," as opposed to working closely with the general public.

The fact that the National Guard is composed of citizen- soldiers contributed to the success of his detachment's mission at Reagan National, Combs said, explaining that his troops understood the concerns of civilian air travelers, being civilians, themselves.

The Guardsmen demonstrated that "we could do our job, and we could go home, and be just like anyone else," he added.

After the Guardsmen arrived at Reagan-National, the contract security screeners came "under watchful eyes to do their jobs to a particular standard," said 1st Sgt. James Swain, 229th Engineer Battalion.

"Some of them decided not to stay," he added.

A retired civilian policeman, Swain emphasized that, "Terrorism can arrive anywhere, at anytime."

"We've come into this major airport and secured it," he said, adding that his soldiers "have displayed professionalism, dedication to the mission and to our country – they've done an outstanding job."

Swain said public confidence has been much-restored among air passengers since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, noting: "The flying public -- the everyday passengers -- have just been so grateful in expressing their thanks for us to be here."

"There was no confidence after 9-11," Swain said. "Then, when people started trickling back into the airport and they saw that somebody was here … maintaining a standard, taking care of them, it brought the faith back."

"Overall, it was a great mission," said Spc. Ricky Mullins, 229th Engineer Battalion. "If I could do it again, I would. The passengers were glad we were here." A plus, Mullins said, was meeting celebrities like television's Joan Rivers and professional athletes like footballer Reggie White.

Paul Miller, representing the Transportation Security Agency at the ceremony, noted the Guardsmen "have had a very calming effect" on the passengers traveling through Reagan-National.

"The Guard has been outstanding," he added.

Others at Reagan-National have been impressed with the Guardsmen. Gabrielle Raniere, the general manager of TGI Friday's at the airport, and Yesoon Lee, the owner of Charlie Chiang's Kwai restaurant, provided discounted meals to Comb's troops.

The Guardsmen are "very selfless," Raniere said, adding that the discounted food was a way "to thank them for their dedication to freedom and for protecting us."

She added: "We hope that we helped them out a little bit and made them feel a little bit more comfortable." After the ceremony, Lee announced the soldiers would have a free meal on her.

"Some people were really nice … it made you feel that you were doing something worthwhile," Swain said.

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