Ventura deploys National Guard for airport security

Amy Hackbarth and

Gov. Jesse Ventura responded rapidly Thursday to President George W. Bush’s suggestion to use the National Guard for airport safety, pledging the assistance of Minnesota troops.

Metropolitan Airport Commission deputy executive director Tim Anderson said the Guard will be used for airport searches and patrol.

Ventura made Minnesota one of the first states to mobilize Guard men and women to protect air travelers.

“When you’re in a time of war, you don’t question the commander in chief,” Ventura said.

Lt. Col. Denny Shields said members of the Guard met with officials from the MAC on Thursday to determine a plan of action.

Shields said he was uncertain how many troops would be used or when they would be deployed.

“It will probably be within the next several days,” he said.

The number of troops used will depend on available Guard resources and the number of airport officers needed, Anderson said.

Troops will not replace current airport security, Anderson said, but provide relief to the officers who now shoulder what has become an overburdening load.

“Our men and women in uniform at the airport have been working 12-hour shifts for a couple of weeks,” Anderson said. “That gets a little old.”

Ventura said he is concerned about using the Guard at airports if two of the state’s largest employee unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employers and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees – strike Monday.

John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman, said placing the Guard at the airport would not interfere with the state’s ability to handle possible strikes.

Anderson said the Guard would patrol terminals and perform searches if the Federal Aviation Administration requires them.

Anderson also said the MAC would like to use the Guard to search vehicles in order to lift the FAA-imposed ban on parking within 300 feet of the terminal.

MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said there is a need to improve passenger confidence but questions whether using military personnel will achieve that goal.

“I don’t want to frighten people by an overabundance of armed people at the airport,” Hogan said.

Anderson said he didn’t know if the Guard would carry firearms.

The Guard’s involvement in airport security was part of Bush’s Thursday announcement about new security measures for the air travel industry.

Bush’s plan was threefold: increase federal air marshal presence on planes, federalize airport security and implement a $500 million plan for cockpit and cabin modifications.

The modifications would include restricting the opening of cockpit doors during flights, installing a system to alert the cockpit crew of cabin activity and providing an aircraft transponder.

During emergencies, the aircraft transponder allows air-traffic controllers to monitor a plane’s position in mid-flight.

“Get on the airlines, get about the business of America,” Bush said. “We will not surrender our freedom of travel.”

 

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.