ANNAPOLIS – About 100 Maryland National Guardsmen will provide additional security in the state’s three commercial airports, but not before they receive special training to prepare them for “civilian interaction,” said Gov. Parris N. Glendening Thursday.
Until guardsmen receive the special training, Maryland State Police will fill in, he said. State troopers were immediately deployed Thursday evening.
Glendening was responding to President Bush’s call for National Guard troops to provide temporary additional security at U.S. airports until the Federal Aviation Administration develops and implements a new federal airport security force.
Normally, military police units would be activated for this duty, Glendening said. The problem is that all of Maryland’s approximately 1,000 military police are already serving in Bosnia and at the Pentagon.
The governor’s staff had scrambled throughout the day to comply with the request.
It took a one-hour conference call with representatives of the White House, Department of Defense, FAA and 20 to 30 governors to work out the details of the activation, the governor said.
“The White House wanted an armed, uniformed, strong presence at (airport) checkpoints” to back up existing security, he said.
The Defense Department will pay for the enhanced security, the governor said. No cost estimates were available.
When they are eventually deployed, the guardsmen from the 3rd Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division will carry M-16 rifles and act as a “deterrent,” said Gen. James Fretterd of the Maryland National Guard.
The soldiers will have full authority to arrest and use their weapons if necessary, the governor said.
The additional guards will be posted at security checkpoints inside Baltimore/Washington International Airport, as well as regional airports in Hagerstown and Salisbury, Glendening said.
“Troopers will arrive tonight,” said John White, BWI spokesman.
There will be enough troopers to supplement the existing airport police and U.S. Marshals already in place at all five security screening areas, but the exact number was not clear, White said.
At the Wicomico Regional Airport in Salisbury, the details of the new security arrangement were not clear to everyone Thursday evening.
Gary Shols, station manager for USAirways Express in Wicomico said he was told that, starting Monday, there would be three state troopers posted during operating hours and two the rest of the time.
In Hagerstown, State Police are already guarding the airport, said Carolyn Motz, manager of Hagerstown Regional Airport. She said she had received no notification of the National Guard security.
Defense Department representatives estimated the National Guard deployment to last six months, but Glendening, noting that others looking at the task the FAA has in recruiting, training and implementing a new force, said, “We anticipate that it will be even longer than that.”
It will be the first time the National Guard has ever been used in this capacity, the governor said.
“This will be a disruption for a number of National Guardsmen,” Glendening said. “We will do everything to support guardsmen employed by the state,” and will ask the private sector to do the same in terms of holding their jobs.
Glendening concluded by echoing statements coming from the federal government as it tries to get the airline industry back on its feet: “It is safe to fly. . . . Our airports are safe.”
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