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US Military on High Alert - 2001-09-25

Military installations around the country are in a state of high alert following President Bush's order for them to get ready to strike. Some of the earliest deployment could come from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the country's second largest army base.

Just a week ago, visitors to the Fort Bragg army base could more or less come and go as they pleased. Now, armed soldiers in uniform inspect every car.

Second Lieutenant Jim Regowski is pulling a 12-hour shift at one base entrance. He explains what it means to be on high alert. "Pretty much everyone's gotta get back in two hours, so you can't go further away than pretty much about an hour away. You can't drink [alcohol] at all. You pretty much need to stay near a phone the whole time, and have to have all your bags packed, ready to go," he said.

This capacity for readiness makes it likely that some of the 42,000 paratroopers and Green Berets stationed here will be among the first to be sent to fight. Fort Bragg has what's called "quick deployable force." That means that at least one brigade would be able to go anywhere in the world, on 18 hours' notice.

Colonel Roger King is the public affairs officer for the 18th Airborne Corps. Colonel King said, "The training that you'll see would be the same thing you would have seen the week before last. There may be a little bit higher level of personal intensity on the part of the soldiers, because there's a perceived intensification of the mission."

While they continue training the soldiers waiting for orders. Colonel King says the campaign against terrorism will be unlike anything the military has ever faced before. "We're venturing into the unknown," he said. "I would expect it to be unique. But the first thing we have to do is, we have to go through a national level period of assessment to decide exactly what the enemy is. And then the national command authority will make a decision as to how we are going to strike it. And a mission will be given to the armed forces, who will then tailor a package to go and accomplish that mission."

Given the uncertainty about what comes next, Fort Bragg's command is trying to give soldiers as much time off as possible with their families. For the soldiers, life has changed immensely in the last week. Speaking at a shopping mall just outside the base, 40-year-old Staff Sergeant Greg Davidson says he thinks his job will be harder than if he were fighting a typical war. "It's tough to sniff out a coward, who hides behind rocks all the time, or caves or buildings, and runs from country to country. But it makes you wanna get these guys more and more now, because of the way they are," he said.

But a younger soldier, 18-year-old Mary Keith, is still getting used to the idea that she'll be called to fight. She said, "Because it's scary, because in effect, it's not actually if we're going to war, it's just when - you know what I mean? It's an inevitable. It's hitting home now and it's actually closer. It's just different."

Still, both soldiers say they're willing to uphold the pledge to fight that they took when they joined the army. So is Ross Gonzalez, who's with his wife Kelly and their three-month-old son. He says the pictures he saw of the terrorist attacks are what motivate him. Mr. gonzalez said, "I don't want to see it happen again. I was telling her - if we have to go fight or do what we have to do - if I don't come home, at least it was - I'm doing something I know was for my country, and to help protect our way of life."

Kelly Gonzalez is a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic. Ross Gonzalez is a crew chief on the Blackhawk, which means he's quite likely to see active combat. Mrs. Gonzalez says the army brought them together. She hopes now it doesn't tear them apart.