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Training for Homeland Defense - 2001-10-17

A relatively small part of the U.S. Armed Forces are actively deployed in the war against terrorism at this time, but military bases around the country are providing training for homeland defense. Reserve personnel as well as National Guard troops are learning new skills such as airport security, biological and chemical warfare defense and protection of vital civilian installations.

Screaming, yelling and pushing, a crowd of unruly demonstrators moves against the soldiers guarding the gate. The soldiers hold their ground and push back with riot shields. Most of the soldiers are armed with automatic rifles, but they do not point their weapons at the crowd.

This was a training exercise and the demonstrators are also soldiers in civilian dress. The idea is to train Texas National Guard troops in how to handle a boisterous crowd and prevent entry to the military installation without using deadly force.

"Our soldiers are taught to do several things to, number one, use the minimal amount of force necessary, to be authoritative and respectful," said First Sergeant William Jernigan. "If that does not work, then, if they are attacked physically, to use the minimal amount of force necessary to control the situation."

Although Army personnel are reluctant to say it, the minimal amount of force necessary may include using their weapons. At a time when war has come to the homeland, that is now more of a possibility than it was before.

Overseeing the training operation for two companies of Texas National Guard troops at Fort Bliss is Major General Perry Dalby, who says these men will soon play an important role in homeland defense. "They will be at materiel sites throughout the nation," he says. Major General Dalby said the sites would be "basically civilian sites, civilian-controlled sites." He added that they had "requested military presence for security."

National Guard troops are already in evidence at airports throughout the United States now, but they are training for security work at many other venues. Specialist Joshua Wren of Lubbock, Texas says the training he is taking here on searching vehicles and checking personal identification will serve him well in his future assignments. "National Guard, we are only one weekend out of the month, two weeks out of the year, so this is an excellent opportunity for us to hone our skills," he says. "When we go back we will be more high speed [more skilled] and up to date on things."

Specialist Ray Serna of Littlefield, Texas says he is happy to see this volunteer corps of so-called "weekend warriors" getting a chance to play a high profile role in defense of the nation. "I feel that we have more pride in what we do now because they are utilizing us for something other than floods or storms and filling sandbags," he said. "We are being utilized to help the country, I guess."

Because of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the National Guardsmen say they are energized and anxious to get to work on their assignment to help defend the homeland. Private First Class Houston Green of Fritch, Texas says he is more than willing to stand out in the hot sun doing 12-hour guard duty shift because he feels he is doing something to protect his country and his own family. "It is great. It is great. I love it and I would not have it any other way.," he says. "I have a daughter and I want to protect her and I would not have it any other way."

All of these National Guard soldiers have jobs in their local communities that they have had to leave behind temporarily for their training and, possibly, for future deployments. More than 500 members of the Texas Army National Guard have been called up so far. Most have been assigned to assist in commercial airport security at 27 locations around the country They will remain there for six months or until permanent security improvements for airports are in place.

Photos by Greg Flakus, VOA