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Can Guard troops make air travel safer?

National Guard
The number of National Guard troops available to airports will increase by 25 percent during the holidays.  

From Charles Feldman
CNN Los Angeles Bureau

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Just in time for the holiday season, more National Guard troops are headed for U.S. airports to put would-be travelers at ease.

Since September 11, more than 6,000 members of the National Guard have been standing guard at the U.S. commercial airports. Now President Bush plans to increase by 25 percent the number available for governors to deploy at the airports.

Some experts question whether the move will make flying a whole lot safer.

"What will it do to actually make the airplanes more secure?" airline pilot Locke Craig asked. "They can stand there, but what effect will it really have as far as the passengers getting on the airplane and the security?"

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general with the Department of Transportation, praises the work of the National Guard. But she doubts flying is any safer now than it was before September 11.

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"We don't even have explosive detection equipment in most American airports. We don't even have X-ray machines in the baggage areas of all airports," she said.

"People still get through -- while the National Guard is standing at the checkpoint -- with seven knives, mace, and a stun gun."

The roles National Guard troops play vary, depending on the airport.

At some airports, such as busy Los Angeles International, they appear to be mostly window dressing. At others, with smaller or no local police forces, they may actually get involved in basic screening of passengers and their luggage.

"It just depends what the airport needs, what the local law enforcement at the airport needs in order to supplement their activities," said Adjutant General Paul Monroe Jr. of the California National Guard

Although the Federal Aviation Administration already has many rules on the books to better maintain security at the nation's airports, more changes are imminent.

The House and Senate are trying to work out differences in legislation that would, among other things, give the federal government a greater role in the passenger and baggage screening process.


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