Arkansas: Keeping up its Guard

The Arkansas National Guard plans to be on watch when the Year 2000 rollover occurs, as it is during any emergency, ready to provide the state with humanitarian assistance. But in this case, whatever the outcome, the guard must deal with a secondary issue: public paranoia.

Over the last year, as the Year 2000 computer problem has garnered widespread attention, rumors have spread that the government would take advantage of the crisis to declare martial law and suspend civil liberties.

The Arkansas National Guard's decision to conduct a drill Jan. 1 and 2 clearly has the potential to feed such fears. So in late November, the Military Department of Arkansas, which oversees the state's Air and Army National Guards, issued a statement assuring its residents that its role in Year 2000 preparations will be nothing out of the ordinary.

While the Arkansas National Guard is most famous for enforcing school integration in Little Rock in the 1960s, the guard traditionally assists state agencies with restoring normal operations after tornadoes, ice storms and other natural emergencies.

The guard did change a regularly scheduled drill date to the January 1-2 weekend "to be there in case we are needed," said a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard. But any involvement of the guard with Year 2000 problems will be coordinated strictly through the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, as during any crisis, the spokesman said.

The guard will brief all its soldiers about its role in contingency plans and what they will be doing that weekend, the spokesman said. Additionally, the governor's office plans to hold a press conference on Dec. 30 to brief the media and its public information officers about its weekend operation plans.

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