National Guard soldiers take to nation's airports in attempt to keep the skies safe

Saturday, September 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ Airline passengers encountered National Guard soldiers at airports across the country as states followed a presidential request to call up troops to fend off potential terrorism threats.

National Guardsmen packing M-16s and pistols and wearing camouflage fatigues were visible at several airports Friday. Many states were in the process of activating soldiers and were expected to have them in airports in coming days.

Denver International Airport passenger Tom Dabrowsky wasn't bothered the presence of soldiers with guns in terminals.

``I was born in Europe, so I have seen what it is like elsewhere,'' said Dabrowsky. ``At least there is a visible something, something is being done.''

At the Albuquerque, N.M., airport, passenger Diane Jones, who was heading home to Maryland, said the armed patrols would make people more nervous about flying.

``I think it creates an aura of heightened fear,'' she said.

North Dakota was among first states to have guardsmen in airports Friday. Senior Airman Sam Ruiz, one of two soldiers patrolling the Bismarck airport, said the reaction was mixed from passengers.

``I can sense that people feel a little safer,'' he said. ``I've heard, 'Better safe than sorry.' I've heard 'What's this world coming to?' Some agree, some don't.''

President Bush recommended that states begin calling up Guard units until longer-term security measures could be put in place.

In Denver, travelers were told to arrive at least four hours early. Lines at security checkpoints and flight check-ins were long early in the day, but shortened considerably by mid-afternoon.

A guardsman watched over a screening entry point as private security employees checked baggage and ran handheld metal detectors over passengers or patted them down. Outside, guardsmen peered into cars in airport parking lots and passenger drop-off points. The guardsmen can also detain passengers if necessary.

In Oregon, guardsmen began arriving Friday after Gov. John Kitzhaber, approved the deployment by phone from Asia, where he is attending a trade mission. Unlike other states, guardsmen in Oregon will not carry weapons.

California Gov. Gray Davis is ordering as many 1,000 National Guard soldiers to the state's airports. That will include 1st Sgt. Robert Ludowitz, who wasn't surprised by the call-up.

``I've been to the fires, the Los Angeles riots. So everything that has gone on today has been expected,'' said Ludowitz, 51. ``We represent security. People want security right now.''