National Guardsmen arrive at YVRA |

National Guardsmen arrive at YVRA

Gary E. Salazar

— Joining the baggage carousels and metal detectors inside the Yampa Valley Regional Airport terminal are military officers dressed in camouflage and armed with assault rifles.

On Tuesday morning, four Army National Guard officers reported for duty at the airport because of an executive order by Gov. Bill Owens in light of the Sept. 11 tragedies.

Owens decided last week to use the National Guard to provide added security at 14 Colorado airports.

“The guardsmen will be working in shifts of two,” said Jim Parker, airport aviation director. “One guard will be stationed at the airport’s security checkpoint. The second will patrol outside of the building and throughout the terminal.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the two guards on duty were visible on the airport grounds. A military vehicle, a Humvee, was the only presence in a vacant parking lot in front of the terminal.

The guardsmen referred questions regarding their mission to the public affairs office.

Parker and Sheriff John Warner welcome the troops to the airport.

“We are one of the lower-risk airports in the country,” Parker said. “Another set of eyes will help. We have rules that we have to comply with. Having more officers out here helps to enforce the requirements.”

Since four commercial flights were hijacked and three were used to crash into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered airports across the country to increase security.

Requirements that have impacted the airport here are parked vehicles are not allowed to be within 300 feet of the terminal, and Warner has had to assign a deputy to the airport.

Although the guardsmen will be on duty at the airport daily from 6:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m., Warner will continue to assign a deputy to the airport.

“The FAA mandate requires that we continue to assign a deputy,” Warner said. “The National Guard is here to assist us. Not to take over.

“I’m thankful they are there. If nothing else, their sheer presence should make a difference.”

For the guardsmen and the Sheriff’s Office to maintain communication, Warner equipped the guardsmen with radios.

At the airport, guardsmen have the authority to enforce all Colorado laws and detain anyone suspected of committing a crime.

“If they detain someone, they will notify us,” Warner said. “We will then make the arrest.”

The guardsmen will report to a captain, who is working closely with Undersheriff Daniel Taylor, who is in charge of staffing the airport with deputies, Warner said.

“So far, communication is going great,” Warner said.

Parker is hopeful the presence of the National Guard at airports across the state will instill public trust in air travel.

“Hopefully, the added visibility of armed personnel in airports will raise confidence in the traveling public,” Parker said.

At this time, Parker can’t say whether passenger volume has decreased at the airport because of the terrorist attacks. Parker said he would have an indication of passenger volume by the middle of this month.

Parker is hopeful the attacks will not have an impact on the airport’s peak activity, which is during ski season when commercial flights start landing and departing at the airport.

Currently, five commercial flights are landing and departing daily from the airport.

The guardsmen are expected to arrive at the airport an hour before the first flight, which is at 7:25 a.m., and leave shortly after the final flight is on the ground, which is 10 p.m., Parker said.

The guardsmen are staying in Steamboat Springs and are using the vault at the Sheriff’s Office to store their weapons, Parker said.

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