Task Force Freedom Guard

Story & Photos by SGT Merrion LaSonde - Posted Oct, 2001

A joint force comprised of members of the Washington Army and Air National Guard arrive at airports throughout the state

"Wow! Are you warriors?" asked a young boy nearly tripping over himself to open the door for the two Washington State National Guard members. Yes, we are, they replied. 

    Dubbed Task Force Freedom Guard, Washington National Guardsmen are now in place providing much needed additional security at the states major airports.

More than 200 Army and Air Guard members have been deployed to 10 airports in Washington with teams varying in size depending on the need of each individual airport for a period of four to six months.

Guardsmen man a checkpoint at SeaTac Airport

We are here as a visible armed presence to ease the mind of the civilians and restore their confidence in flying, said SFC Allen S. Clark, detachment commander of the guard members stationed at the Yakima airport.  Clark went on to say, I am proud and incredibly honored to serve my nation and my community in this way. I will do it for as long as they need me.

As a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks Washington Army National Guard members were requested by President George Bush and activated by the states governor, Gary Locke (see related story).  The current mission began October 5 and has taken the form of guard members positioned in airports throughout the state of Washington to augment security forces.

Within the scope of their mission, the soldiers and airmen are being guided by airport security and are there to step in and help as needed. To prepare for their assignment, the guardsmen received comprehensive training by the FAA in both classroom and on-the-job environments.  Their instruction included addressing legal and operational considerations of checkpoint operations, courteous and efficient screening, incident management, conflict resolution and safe handling of deadly or dangerous items.

My mother and I bought our tickets to Vegas on September 5, said Jean Echols, a resident of Warden, Wash.  Echols continued, After the attack, we spent a while trying to decide if we still wanted to go. I was nervous. The news of the bombing made me even more nervous, but the soldiers presence is comforting and we figure the best thing we can do for the country right now is spend money.

Some of the items collected in the first four days of duty included numerous pairs of scissors, nail clippers with metal files, and in one instance, a butane camp stove.
A woman was returning from a camping trip and she was carrying her camp stove on board, said SSG Richard Cassell. It wasnt like we could just confiscate the butane tank. It was a fixed-butane stove. The woman explained she has always carried it with her on board when she flew. We tried to explain how dangerous the gas was to have on a plane. She became very upset. In a gesture of good will, one of the guard members offered to mail the stove to the passengers home address.

While the guard members are in the airports to assist in enforcing the rules, they are also members of the local community.  They will try to help their friends and neighbors in any way that does not conflict with their overall mission.

All will receive training from law enforcement personnel and airport security personnel on the proper use of security equipment

Whenever possible, the National Guard attempts to assign soldiers and airmen to positions within commuting distance of their home.

Within the first week of the mission, COL Terry Oxley, 96th Troop Battalion Commander, visited the troops at every airport to see how they were getting established and to get an idea as to what sort of tasks the guardsmen were performing. Oxley explained, Our purpose for these visits is to identify and solve the small problems before they become big issues. We are also checking on the morale of the troops and to evaluate their understanding of the mission, said Oxley.

Other senior officers from Troop Command accompanying Oxley on the visit were LTC James Gardner, 95th Troop Command executive officer, LTC Jerry Kosierowski, Commander of Task Force Freedom Guard, CSM Darrel Foote, Troop Command Sergeant Major, and CSM William Barkley, Task Force Command Sergeant Major.

In addition to their airport duty schedule, guard members also make time for anti-terrorism training, physical fitness and military occupational specialty training. The detachments are also working with the local law enforcement so they have access to weapons firing ranges to practice and remain proficient.

Guard operations will be conducted under the supervision of civilian law enforcement personnel

Choking back tears, Im so happy to see you here, said a WW II veteran to some guard members on duty in an airport. They replied, We are very happy to be here, sir.   Though initial reactions to an armed military presence in the airports throughout the state have varied from surprise to apprehension, overall response has been very positive. 
The citizens have approached guard members with smiles, handshakes and numerous offers of thanks for serving and protecting them.

The response from the soldiers and airmen as a whole has been Glad to be here."