Troops from the D.C. National Guard will take to the streets of Washington during the millennium changeover, directing traffic and assisting with crowd control beginning tomorrow, officials said.
In addition, National Guard soldiers will be working at police district stations throughout the city, taking over administrative desk jobs to free police officers for street patrols.
About 300 uniformed troops will be working in shifts round-the-clock to support millennium events from tomorrow until Sunday, Maj. Gen. Warren Freeman, the commander of the D.C. National Guard, said in an interview.
The troops will be positioned at 150 locations throughout the city, directing traffic at key intersections and helping with crowd control, Freeman said.
The deployment comes at the request of District officials, who are bracing to deal with crowds of revelers, a millennium party on the Mall and potential problems associated with the Y2K computer glitch. "It's to assist the city, because their resources are stretched," Freeman said.
The use of the National Guard troops is not in response to any specific security threats and has been planned for months, officials said.
Many of the D.C. Guard troops are military police officers trained to deal with crowds and traffic. "It's not unlike what we do to support a presidential inauguration," Freeman said. The MPs will be sworn in as special police, guard officials said.
Freeman said guard troops will be prepared to respond to contingencies such as power outages and more serious problems.
When not on the streets, the troops will be quartered at the D.C. Armory and at a center in Anacostia. The local USO is planning entertainment for the troops, according to Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington.
In Maryland, about 400 National Guard troops are being positioned at locations around the state, including Silver Spring, "to be first responders if necessary," said Capt. Drew Sullins, a spokesman for the guard.
"If the government needs them, they'll be put on the street or wherever they're needed," Sullins said. "We'll have soldiers ready in uniform."
As in the District, the troops are not part of a special call-up. Instead, guard officials scheduled normal weekend drill duty to coincide with the New Year in order to have troops available.
The Virginia National Guard will establish an operations center at Fort Pickett in Blackstone and will respond as needed, said Maj. Tom Wilkinson, a spokesman.
In another development, the National Park Service said yesterday that it will shut off access to the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War memorials tomorrow, beginning about 10 a.m. The memorials will reopen early on New Year's Day. Some veterans are upset at the decision.
"We've gotten a number of calls from angry Vietnam veterans or family members who wanted to ring in the New Year remembering friends and relatives," said Alan Greilsamer, a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
But Park Service officials said the closure is necessary for security and to protect the war memorials, which are near the stage that has been set up in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the millennium celebration.