BALTIMORE – At exactly noon Thursday, members of the Maryland National Guard, armed with M-16 rifles and dressed in battle uniform, took their places at Baltimore/Washington International Airport terminals.
For the next six months, 80 infantry and artillery soldiers from the 3rd Brigade of the 29th Division will assist with airport security at BWI.
Guardsmen wouldn’t be specific about their duties, but did say they could make arrests, marking the first time ever the Maryland National Guard has had such powers.
Guard members will be stationed at passenger security checkpoints, but will not search passengers or their belongings.
They are serving in a support role, said Lt. Barbara Maher, Maryland National Guard spokeswoman.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered the guard to BWI after President Bush called for troops to enhance airport security. The Department of Defense will pick up the tab for the extra security.
“The White House wanted an armed, uniformed, strong presence at (airport) checkpoints,” Glendening has said. He also said he anticipates needing the guard to stay at BWI after its six-month stint is up.
The guard replaced Maryland State troopers, who began working at the airport Sept. 27, after terrorists hijacked four planes Sept. 11, flying them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Pittsburgh.
Many BWI passengers took comfort in the guard’s presence.
“It’s great,” said Christian Creutzer, a Parkville modeling agency owner, who thinks the airport should do “whatever it takes” to ensure passenger safety.
One passenger wouldn’t mind the guard permanently patrolling BWI.
“I feel more safe,” said Kathy Johnson, a former pharmacy technician from St. Louis. The guard’s presence wasn’t frightening, she added.
A couple from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on the other hand, was apprehensive about having soldiers with rifles intimidating tourists at airport terminals.
“This whole situation is scary,” said security consultant Bob Bangle, who questioned whether the guard’s training had prepared them to deal with terrorist activity.
“They look very young. Would they really make a difference?” said Paula Bangle.
As for the guardsmen, most were happy to be at BWI, even though they had to leave their civilian jobs temporarily.
Guardsmen usually serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
“It’s very exciting. We’re very proud to be representing the Army as well as the state of Maryland,” said Capt. Michael Duplechain, who works at a Washington nonprofit organization and will oversee the guard’s operations at three airports.
In addition to BWI, 40 guardsmen will supplement security measures at airports in Hagerstown and Salisbury starting Friday.
All guard members received airport security training from the Federal Aviation Administration and crowd control training from the Maryland Transportation Authority.
They are also being trained to use a 9mm Beretta handgun, which will eventually replace the M-16 rifles they carry now.
“It’s not necessary to have that powerful of a weapon in this situation,” said Maher.
The guard’s deployment at the airports is considered a state mission. The last such mission this division participated in was the snowstorm of 2000.
– 30 – CNS 10-04-01