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Homeland Defense: Guard Members Safeguard U.S. Turf, Skies

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2001 – National Guard members have been performing a variety of homeland defense missions on the ground and in the air since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

Besides assisting in disaster relief and security missions after the attacks at the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, guardsmen are patrolling the nation's airports and safeguarding America's skies, said Mark Allen, National Guard Bureau spokesperson.

Historically, America's National Guard has "been involved in all kinds of disaster relief support in this country when it was needed," Allen said. The Minutemen of the American Revolution could be considered predecessors to today's Guard members, he noted.

The Guard responded with alacrity to assist in relief efforts at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and at the Somerset County, Pa., plane crash site, Allen remarked.

"The New Jersey (Guard) responded to New York in a big way, and of course the Pennsylvania Guard was called out because of the disaster there," he noted.

Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia Guard units assisted in Pentagon disaster relief efforts and security missions and in security operations within the District of Columbia and at Ronald Reagan National Airport, Allen noted.

Guard members have since been tapped to supplement nationwide security efforts at airports, bridges, and other locations.

"The latest contingencies are huge and have captured the imagination of the world," Allen said.

As National Guard members and reservists help safeguard the nation's earthbound transportation hubs from terrorists, Air National Guard members are patrolling America's skies said Air Force Maj. Gen. Larry K. Arnold, commander of 1st Air Force, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unit has 10 F- 15 and F-16 fighter wings across the country and air defense sectors for the Northeast, Western, and Southeast regions of the nation.

The 1st Air Force pilots are Air Guard members, said Arnold, who also commands the Continental United States North American Aerospace Command Region -- charged with the air defense of the North American continent.

It is important for any country to be able to safeguard its land borders -- and skies -- from intrusion or attack by potential adversaries, Arnold said. In the United States, he said, air sovereignty encompasses both law enforcement and national security domains.

"Air sovereignty in the broader sense means -- in combination with the other agencies -- controlling our skies, controlling our borders," Arnold noted. First Air Force, he added, works closely with the Federal Aviation Administration.

If aircraft approaching U.S. airspace don't have proper FAA clearance, "then it becomes our responsibility to go out there and identify them," Arnold noted. If intruders are suspected of smuggling, he said, 1st Air Force would "call law enforcement officials to grab hold of these folks."

Air sovereignty, however, is a law enforcement issue and also a national defense issue, Arnold said. During the Cold War, U.S. air defenses focused on long-range Soviet Bear bombers, he noted. After the Cold War, the U.S. military prepared for the threat of terrorism from the air, Arnold noted, but not originating from within the country and certainly not involving the use of U.S. commercial airliners as flying bombs.

"Prior to Sept. 11, we were concerned about a terrorist attack from outside of the United States, possibly by a cruise missile being launched from a ship, or some kind of aircraft flying in that had hostile intent toward the United States," he remarked.

Before Sept. 11, American radars and sensors were focused "on the periphery" of the United States, Arnold noted.

"We shared those radars with the FAA. Our radio capabilities were along our borders, being able to talk with and connect our fighters with the people that were running the radarscopes controlling our borders," he explained.

Since the attacks, U.S. officials "have been working ... to be able to see on the interior of the United States and to be able to talk to fighters on the inside of the United States, as well," Arnold said.

Very quickly after Sept. 11, "We had to have 'eyes' where we could not see before, and so we put up the airborne warning AWACS aircraft," he said. This includes Air Force Airborne Warning and Control System planes, Navy E-2s and U.S. Customs' P-3 aircraft with radar domes. NATO AWACS aircraft tasked to NORAD in October have also been patrolling American skies.

U.S. Customs members "have really leaned forward to be able to participate in this mission. ... They have helped our AWACS crews out of Tinker (Air Force Base, Okla.)," Arnold noted.

Arnold's boss, Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, commander in chief of NORAD and U.S. Space Command, is responsible for military air sovereignty over Alaska, Canada and the continental United States.

Established in 1958, NORAD is a U.S.-Canadian command that provides warning of missile and air attack against both member nations, according to the organization's Web site. NORAD also safeguards the air sovereignty of North America and provides air defense forces in the event of an air attack.

"We have a binational relationship with Canada," Arnold explained. Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. K.R. Pennie is deputy commander of NORAD. Canadian Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Lucas commands the 1st Canadian Air Division and the Canadian NORAD region, he added.

As 1st Air Force commander, Arnold said, he is responsible for air sovereignty over the continental United States. In Hawaii, he added, that mission falls under the U.S. Pacific Command, and U.S. Southern Command covers Puerto Rico.

In 1997, the 1st Air Force became primarily an Air National Guard unit, Arnold said. Years before that, he noted, senior Air Force officials, contemplating a smaller active duty force, had looked at ways for reserve and active forces to share that responsibility.

Many active U.S. Air Force units shut down during military force reductions in the 1990s, Arnold remarked. Just about all the flying units assigned to the air sovereignty alert mission had become Air National Guard units, he added.

Because those Air Guard fighter wings were located across the nation, they were in the right places to perform the air sovereignty mission," Arnold noted.

On the ground and in the air, the National Guard's response in the wake of the terror attacks on the United States "is just a modern-day example" how America's citizen-soldiers have risen to the occasion in defense of the nation, Allen concluded.

For more First Air Force information, see the unit's Web site: http://www.1staf.tyndall.af.mil/mission.html.

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