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Pa. National Guard prepares for airport security

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001

Starting Friday, Pennsylvania National Guard members will provide a military presence at Pittsburgh International Airport and 15 other airports throughout the state for up to six months.

The Army National Guard plans to deploy 128 members to airports with commercial service. Another 32 members will staff communications centers serving the airport-based personnel.

'The target is Oct. 5, so you may see them on Friday,' said Maj. Colleen Probst, a public affairs specialist with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the state's National Guard units. 'They are going to supplement the on-site security.'

Probst would not say how many National Guard members will be deployed to Pittsburgh International. The guard members will wear camouflage clothing, called battle dress uniforms, and carry sidearms. They will not carry machine guns.

Probst also would not specify what their daily tasks would involve. Their training this week at Fort Indiantown Gap includes personnel screening, identifying potential threats and operation of special equipment, Probst said.

State governments called on their National Guard units after President Bush requested last week that they augment security staff at all commercial airports at the federal government's expense.

'We don't anticipate to be there more than six months,' Probst said. 'We are augmenting security, and as airports build up security, our presence will slowly decrease.'

National Guard members also will be sent to Arnold Palmer Airport near Latrobe in Westmoreland County. None will be stationed at Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.

Security at Pittsburgh International is provided mainly by two agencies: security firm Huntleigh USA of St. Louis, hired by US Airways, the airport's dominant airline; and the Allegheny County police, which maintains a station at the Findlay Township airport.

Jim Ritchie can be reached at jritchie@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7933.

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