After the attacks on September 11, 2001, homeland security, long a secondary concern, became a top defense priority. In response, some 35,000 millitary personnel have been called off reserve and in to active duty. We report on one unit from Duluth, Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The mission of this Duluth, Minnesota-based Guard unit is to monitor and protect U.S. airspace. Some 300 full-time Air Force personnel work with 700 part- timers, weekend warriors who bring an array of skills from their civilian jobs, everything from cooks to pilots. The unit’s F-16s guard a wide swath of the central United States.
SPOKESMAN: Ten hut! Please take your seats.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Last weekend, base commander Tim Cossalter told his unit their mission, homeland defense, long a secondary concern, is now a top national defense priority.
TIM COSSALTER: The threat is real, people. These are not people that are real receptive to our way of life. It’s an assault on our way of life, and it’s an assault on our freedom, and so we need to be prepared.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Nationwide, as many as 35,000 military reservists could be activated for tasks ranging from patrolling New York City to military missions and support functions. In its largest mobilization since the Cuban Missile Crisis, this unit has been patrolling the northern region; exactly where is classified. To support this stepped-up activity, about 150 part-timers with specific skills– mechanics, pilots and security personnel– have been involuntarily called to active duty.
SPOKESMAN: We’re going to try and work with the people to try and make it palatable. We want to work with you so that there’s no stress or strain or pain on your life and with your family. However, ultimately, mission is our number one responsibility.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Sergeant Aaron Bresnahan, a pharmaceutical salesman now pressed into security detail, life and lifestyle have changed abruptly.
SERGEANT AARON BRESNAHAN: When you get home in the evening time, you try to spend a half an hour with your kids before you have to go to bed and get up and get ready for it the next morning.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You haven’t had a day off since September 11?
SERGEANT AARON BRESNAHAN: No, sir.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: 14 hours a day?
SERGEANT AARON BRESNAHAN: Correct, sir.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Reporter: It’s a new reality that few could have expected. Aircraft mechanic Gregg Marcuk says the idea of an attack on U.S. soil is new and unnerving.
GREGG MARCUK: It occurred within our own borders, I mean, New York City. It just goes to show you that it could happen anywhere. I’m really apprehensive. I have confidence in our unit, our leaders, but this has never happened before. I guess the ambiguity of it all is a bit confusing.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the wariness, Wing Commander Cossalter says there’s run no shortage of part-timers willing to volunteers for active duty.
TIM COSSALTER: There’s a lot of people with determination.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Anger?
TIM COSSALTER: There is anger, but it’s not the traditional anger that I would say they want to lash out. It’s the anger that there are individuals in the world that have this attitude towards us.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many of those activated could lose income as well as sleep. Federal laws protect civilian jobs for those on guard duty, and provide some compensation for lost pay. Bresnahan believes he’ll still take a pay cut, but he’s philosophical.
SERGEANT AARON BRESNAHAN: You kind of take things in perspective, and say, you know, “things could have been worse.” I could have lived in New York, or worked at the World Trade Center, or had family members or loved ones lost in that tragedy. When you take it into that perspective, taking a few bucks hit each month, it really doesn’t seem quite as important — almost trivial.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Others, like Brenda McCorrison, a physical therapy assistant in civilian life, are happy to pay back the Guard, in her case, for ten years of skills training and extra income.
BRENDA McCORRISON: It put me through school and it bought me a hot water heater one year, and another year my pipes froze and it bought me whole new water pipes for my house, so, it’s helped me out. The Guard is an environment where whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If called up, she says she’s prepared, with strong support from her husband and two young daughters.
BRENDA McCORRISON: They’re… You know, they’re very proud and they know that this is mommy’s job and mommy loves her job and she’ll do whatever she has to do. They have to grow up and know that they are protected just like when we growing up.
SPOKESMAN: We cannot let our guard down. It’s going to have a tendency to get monotonous, it’s going to have a tendency to get old. So, please, please, please make sure you fully implement and fully follow the force protection measures at whatever force protection condition we’re at. If it’s ever for training, you can be assured I will tell you, but we’re no longer in the training mode.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And while there’s no end date for this unit’s activation, individual call-ups are for at least 45 days, and can last as long as two years