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A helping hand from Alabama

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Olympic security got a little more secure on Saturday with the arrival of 300 Army National Guard members flown in from Alabama to help support law enforcement officials.

The first group to arrive at Hill Air Force Base is part of the total of 4,500 soldiers ? including National Guard, Reserve and active-duty forces ? who will assist the Joint Task Force-Olympics.

The first contingent from Alabama was composed entirely of military police, but they will not function in a traditional police role during the 2002 Winter Games and the Paralympic Games.

Instead, they will serve as support for local and national law enforcement organizations. That includes help with aviation, communications, explosive ordnance detection and disposal, physical security and temporary facilities.

If, for example, mass protests broke out somewhere, the Guardsmen could not arrest people. However, they could help secure the area while law enforcement officials arrested any individuals who broke the law.

The Guardsmen will be housed throughout the Wasatch Front, according to Lt. Col. Lisa M. Bogdanski, chief of public affairs for the Joint Task Force-Olympics. Some will stay at Hill Air Force Base, others at Camp Williams, others in civilian housing. "We're trying to billet people as close as we can to the venue they will be working," she said.

Utah is a little chillier than Alabama, and the first wave of people to arrive were busily checking their winter gear before being briefed.

Sgt. 1st Class Alan R. Marshall said he didn't know any details as yet about what actual work he would be doing, but that didn't matter. "I'm proud to serve my country," he said.

His wife and two children, ages 10 and 6, are used to his departures with the National Guard. But since he's stationed where the Olympics will be, the children have asked him lots of questions and want him to bring souvenirs home, he said.

Sgt. Nellie Mims termed the entire operation "great" and said she was optimistic about about being in Utah and helping with the Games. "I'm an American and I have to serve my country," she said.

Her family is a military family so they, too, are accustomed to her travels. Her husband retired after 30 years in the Army, one son is in Europe with the Air Force, and another son is in the reserves in Atlanta.

Despite the long and busy schedules that Guard members are expected to have, Mims said she hoped to get in some sightseeing, especially the Tabernacle at Temple Square and other well-known spots.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com