Gulfport Air National Guard Ready And Waiting

Members of the 255th Air Control Squadron at the Gulfport Air National Guard Base spend much of their time in front of radar screens, monitoring the tracks of commerical and military planes.

"We identify the aircraft that our radar detects and then we can control airplanes, say fighter airplanes to intersect any hostile aircraft or set up combat air patrols," Maj. Mike O'Connor said.

There are about 250 people in this unit. Many of them work out of these operations modules which can be moved anywhere in the world and set up to monitor the skies.

The mission of the 209th Civil Engineering Squadron is to repair runways. If, for example, a bomb was dropped on a runway, this group would gather quickly to fix the hole and get planes back in the air again. With the rapid response of their construction equipment, they can fix a crater in less than an hour.

"And they've just come through inspection, they're doing great, so they're 100 percent ready to go and if America needs us, we're going to be there," Col. Joe Spraggins said.

Col. Spraggins says Mississippi Guard units are some of the most ready in the country, meaning it's more likely they could be called up by President Bush. The fire department hopes that before that happens, they'll be able to recruit a few more people.

"We have a 27 person manning docket and we are low on people, so we could use some recruitment right now, and if anybody's out there that would like to be a part of the fire department, part of what's going on in the world today, we'd be glad to have them," Master Sgt. Tommy Stepp said.

Many Guardsmen and women in Gulfport say Tuesday's attacks have made them more focused on their mission and many are anxious for the opportunity to defend the country.

Col. Spraggins says Gulfport Air National Guard squadrons could be called up individually or altogether.