BOSTON – More than 800 Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island National Guard members helped local law enforcement agencies in eight cities and towns to keep the route clear for runners as they hit the road for the 118th Boston Marathon April 21.
The National Guard provided civil support teams from 20 states specializing in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and improvised explosive detection teams, as well as medical and security personnel to help local communities along the 26.2-mile route to ensure the race was safe and successful.
The Massachusetts National Guard’s 79th Troop Command formed Task Force Patriot, commanded by Army Col. Mark. A. Merlino. Task Force Patriot supervised and planned the Guard's efforts and successfully coordinated with inte-agency partners to support the Boston Athletic Association as they continued to carry on the world's oldest marathon.
"The Massachusetts National Guard is proud to support the 118th Boston Marathon and is working closely with officials from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the Boston Athletic Association and more than 15 interagency partners to ensure a safe and successful race," said Army Lt. Col. James Sahady, spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard.
Because of the finish-line bombings and subsequent manhunt that marred last year’s event, the Department of Homeland Security categorized this year's race as a national special security event.
"We are well-prepared to provide medical and security support to our civil authorities and communities, enhancing safety for the 2014 Boston Marathon,” said Army Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the Massachusetts adjutant general. “Our National Guard soldiers and airmen are proud to be an integral part of this historic race and our nation's 'Boston Strong' spirit of competition, compassion, and community."
A significant change in the Guard's security strategy this year was that all of the security personnel were armed military police or security forces specialists. During previous Marathons, Guard members were unarmed while supporting the event. The National Guard civil support teams that advise and help first responders to detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons also were armed.
“We train year-round to advise and assist incident commanders and first responders to detect and deal with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear devices,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew Woolums, commander of the Massachusetts Guard’s 1st Civil Support Team. “This year, we added more explosive detection training, and our soldiers and airmen carry weapons."
All of the public safety agencies have been committed to carrying out the safety plan in a way that did not diminish the fun for runners and spectators, officials said. In the wake of last year’s events, public interest in supporting the city’s greatest race resulted in 36,000 runners registering for the marathon, compared to 27,000 last year. The combination of more runners and tighter security has been a challenge for planners.
"It's great to be here, and to know that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Lapworth, a security forces airman with the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Intelligence Wing.