Imperial airport inspected by colonel

October 25, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Shortly before noon Wednesday, U.S. National Guard Col. William Wade strode from the Huey helicopter that had just touched down at Imperial County Airport.

As joint task force commander for "Operation Aerosafe," he was on a whistle-stop tour of all California commercial airports where National Guard troops have been deployed as part of sweeping changes to public security since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

With a courteous nod to waiting film crews and reporters, he made his way to a side door of the airport where two of his men were on duty. He chatted with them for a few moments before moving to the main airport facility.

Imperial County Airport has had National Guard troops in place since Friday. For security reasons, the exact number of troops here was not released.


Wade said of his stop at the county airport, "The purpose of this inspection tour is to take a look at the operations, meet with the troops and basically assess the situation and see where we stand now."

When asked how long he anticipates having troops on the ground at California airports, Wade said, "The word from the president and down through the chain of command is four to six months."

"There is a twofold requirement here," he added. "One is the time needed to train up the civilian or federal forces, whatever they decide to replace us with, who will be in support of the Federal Aviation Administration and local law enforcement.

"The other requirement is to restore the faith of the American people in their air transportation system so they feel safe in flying again," Wade added.

Starting from Sacramento on Sunday, Wade and his team flew to airports in Northern California and then started touching down at airports in the Southern region.

Asked to gauge the reaction of travelers to the presence of troops at commercial airports, Wade said he had observed a "remarkably positive attitude."

"It's been amazing how many people from California have come up to shake hands with the Guardsmen and thank them for what they are doing," he said.

Some 40 minutes after he landed, Wade rejoined his team in the waiting helicopter, which took off for points north.

Back on the ground, Cpl. Michael Snyder and Sgt. Ramon Veloz stood guarding the entrance doors to the airport. While both live in the region, their specific residences were not given.

"This is a just mission. It is a right mission. This is what our president has ordered us to do. Our job is to protect the citizens of the United States," Snyder said as he and Veloz watched the Huey lift off and head north.

Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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