Saturday, May 11, 2002

National Guard leave state airports today

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — The National Guardsmen watching over security at Kentucky's airports will be replaced with local police by the end of today, officials said.

        The assignment will end for six soldiers stationed at Louisville International, six at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, four soldiers at Paducah's airport and three at the Owensboro airport, said Col. Norman Arflack, state project officer for the Kentucky National Guard's airport security detail.

        Soldiers with automatic weapons have been stationed at checkpoints in five Kentucky airports since Oct. 5, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Soldiers were pulled from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport April 30, Col. Arflack said.

        They have overseen screeners who scan passengers, search bags and confiscate items that could pose a flight risk, and they have ensured that Federal Aviation Administration guidelines are followed at the checkpoints.

        It was National Guard troops who noticed a screener had fallen asleep at an X-ray monitor at Louisville in February, prompting delays when nearly 1,000 people had to be rescreened.

        The security change will be a seamless transition for air travelers in Louisville, said Rande Swann, spokeswoman for the Regional Airport Authority. “The only thing they'll see different is the change of the uniform.”

        The assignment has been “tough on the men and women who have had to do it,” Adjutant Gen. Allen Youngman said. “For many of them it's meant living out of a hotel room, being away from the job or families.”

        The federal government had promised that troops would be pulled from airports nationwide by the end of March, but the mission was extended through May because the government realized it could not hire and train enough personnel by then to take over the checkpoints, Gen. Youngman said.

        It has cost the U.S. Department of Defense an estimated $1.9 million through Thursday to station troops in Kentucky's airports, said David Altom, a Kentucky National Guard spokesman.

        Over the next 12 to 18 months, the federal Transportation Security Administration will assume oversight of security at the nation's 429 commercial airports, Gen. Youngman said. Bruce Botman, a 20-year veteran of the FBI, has been named the new federal security director at Louisville International.

        Local law-enforcement officers will watch over the airport's lone security checkpoint, which operates 17 hours a day, Ms. Swann said.

        At Hebron, 23 soldiers were assigned to checkpoints at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport before they were pulled, Col. Arflack said.

        Airport police and Boone County sheriff's deputies have replaced the National Guard, said Ted Bushelman, the airport's director of communications.


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