SAN FRANCISCO — Dozens of armed California National Guard troops were deployed Friday at Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports to strengthen security and reassure travelers returning to the skies in the aftermath of last month’s terrorist attacks.
Soldiers in battle dress fatigues and carrying M-16 rifles took posts in the early morning at San Francisco International Airport and at midday at Los Angeles International Airport, some standing behind baggage screeners, others watching passengers go through checkpoints.
“I think it’s wonderful they are here,” said traveler Bonnie Rader of Huntington Beach. “It should have been done a while ago.”
But others thought the show of force was too much.
“I’m not sure it will do a lot for national security,” said Craig Guenther, who flew from Orange County to San Francisco for a one-day business trip on Friday. “It gives people a sense of well being and safety, even if it’s a false one.
“This is something you usually see in a third-world country. It’s a shame it’s come to that.”
Army Sgt. Joe Barker said in San Francisco that the national guardsmen will patrol the airports and supervise X-ray machine checkpoints leading to the gates, but will not search bags unless something is awry.
The initial deployment to the state’s two largest airports will expand to nine other airports within a week and to 30 airports by Oct. 19, Gov. Gray Davis told a press conference at Los Angeles International.
The Guard members are “experienced, seasoned professionals who know how to keep the peace and provide peace of mind to the traveling public,” Davis said.
“It’s good to have them here,” said Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Bernard Wilson.
Most airline passengers echoed that view.
“I truly believe they could have prevented the attacks. Maybe they would have scared them off,” said Karrie Miller, 22, as she headed from Los Angeles to Sacramento.
The Guard members, trained by the Federal Aviation Administration in terminal screening procedures and conflict resolution, will support civil authorities, said Lt. Col. Charles “Terry” Knight.
The troops will act as “another set of eyes ... real, trained soldiers that are going to be functional,” he said.
The governor and other officials emphasized that the National Guard was joining a multilayer security team and is not taking over airport protection.
“They are not here to replace anyone,” Davis said. “They’re to provide an additional layer of security, to be there in case something goes wrong, and to be a deterrence to anyone who might want to do something wrong.”
The governor acknowledged the disruption of lives caused by the Guard call-up.
“I’m very proud of these men and women because they’ve put their lives on hold to perform this mission. Many people left young children at home,” he said.
Seventy-eight Guard members were deployed to Los Angeles International. In San Francisco, about 20 guardsmen will be on duty at any given time.
Sgt. Edward Morris, a full-time guardsman from El Centro, said he received notice Monday, arrived in Los Angeles the next day and trained until 9 p.m. Thursday.
“Being a single parent it’s tough to be here, but it’s my job. I signed a contract and this is what it means,” said Morris, who left his teen-age daughter and son with a friend. “I’ll be here as long as I’m needed.”
Sgt. Javier Zamora, 34, a full-time guardsman who normally works as an aircraft refueler, had to leave his wife and three children in Hemet for the Los Angeles deployment.
“This is a new thing for us,” Zamora said. “We’re providing a service. Giving the public a sense of security. I’m here and I’m glad I’m here.”