Local National Guard troops yesterday missed the usual post-Thanksgiving leftovers and televised football games to patrol airports and to help protect the U.S. Capitol.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was nearly deserted yesterday afternoon as shifts of the Virginia National Guard marched down corridors. They have been stationed at the airport since it re-opened Oct. 4 after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Workers at the airport said business has been picking up.
“It makes me feel a whole lot safer to see [the Guardsmen],” said Phillip Watson, who works at the Brooks Brothers store on Reagan Airport’s promenade level.
Mr. Watson said that with the National Guard present, people feel safer and “the government should go ahead and open up more flights.” The airport is operating at about 45 percent of its pre-September 11 capacity.
Some travelers flying in from Texas, California and Arizona seemed nervous when Guardsmen walked past with their M16 assault rifles in hand.
“I’m scared to approach them with those guns, but it’s OK,” said Mary Colontano of Phoenix.
She managed to get over her fear and thanked one of the soldiers for his hard work.
Miss Colontano said she was surprised to get a flight going into Reagan Airport, and had expected more security.
Staff Sgt. Steven Morris, 38, was switching posts, walking from one end of the airport to the other, making sure his troops had everything they needed. He said he normally would not be working Thanksgiving weekend at his civilian job, but added he felt good knowing he was helping keep travelers safe.
“A number of passengers have given me words of encouragement and thanks. Most are glad we’re here,” he said.
National Guard troops have been stationed at airports around the country to provide extra security after September 11.
At the Capitol, D.C. National Guardsmen have been on the job for a week, having been sworn in by the Metropolitan Police Department on Nov. 16. The 50 Guardsmen are relieving U.S. Capitol Police officers who have been working 12-hour days, six days a week since September 11.
“We had to get sworn in to do the job, and our carrying weapons made the [D.C. government] nervous, so they delayed it a day or two,” said Sgt. David H. Harris.
He said he normally worked driving a Metrobus on Thanksgiving Day, but added he didn’t miss out on the holiday festivities.
“I got home just in time,” said Sgt. Harris, 51. “But it was well worth it when some people stopped just to say thanks and wished me a happy holiday.”