St. Louis Armed and in camouflage, Missouri National Guard troops newly trained by the Federal Aviation Administration began watchdogging checkpoints at the state's commercial airports Saturday, hoping to reassure air travelers jittery since the terrorist attacks.
At St. Louis' Lambert Airport, Gov. Bob Holden thanked Guard troops wearing combat fatigues and carrying sidearms just hours after they were posted there Saturday morning. At Kansas City International Airport, troops with Beretta handguns began patrolling about 5 a.m. Saturday.
"Your presence out here is going to give people more assurance that they're traveling safely," Holden told seven troops assembled before reporters at Lambert. "I appreciate you being on the job."
About 200 of the 700 Missouri Guardsmen who volunteered were tapped to augment security at airports in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Joplin, Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Kirksville and Fort Leonard Wood, officials said. Holden said Saturday's deployments went "extremely smooth."
Officials have refused to specify numbers of Guard troops at each site or their roles, aside from their authority to detain suspects until airport police arrive.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush has called for 4,000 to 5,000 troops to be stationed at the nation's 420 commercial airports for up to six months while the federal government develops a permanent security plan. The U.S. government will pay for the troops' placement.
U.S. air travel dropped sharply after the attacks, causing airlines to lay off tens of thousands of employees. Although the number of commercial flights each day has returned to near normal, some of the planes are only one-third to one-half full.
At Lambert on Saturday, Florida-bound Bill Stables patiently waited his turn at a checkpoint that was flanked by uniformed Guard troops far from inconspicuous
"It's good that they're visible, and I'm all for it," said the 54-year-old credit collections chief for a St. Louis company, taking his first flight since hijackers crashed two planes into New York's World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.
"I wouldn't say I'm reluctant (to fly again), but I certainly think about it a bit more," Stables said. "I'm more guarded."