Guardsmen Head for Panama After Rejection of Court Challenge
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A group of Air National Guardsmen left for training in Central America after a court challenge to their Central American mission was rejected.
The 60 guardsmen left Van Nuys Airport in three C-130 cargo planes Friday night, bound for Panama, said Lt. Col Vic Rippe, air operations officer for the Guard’s 146th Tactical Airlift Wing.
The detachment, which includes flight and maintenance crews, consists entirely of volunteers, said Lt. Col. Joe Jepsen.
In a lawsuit filed late Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the group Americans for Democratic Action challenged Gov. George Deukmejian’s authority to send the guard unit out of the country.
The ADA attorneys argued that state laws prohibit the governor from ordering the guardsmen outside the country on the request of the federal government unless there is a declaration of war or national emergency.
California Deputy Attorney General John Crimmins, however, virtually ignored the plaintiffs’ arguments of law and accused them of using the court as a forum for expressing their own political opinions.
″In effect, what they are trying to do is interfere with the foreign policy of the United States,″ Crimmins said Thursday.
Attorneys for the group sought a temporary restraining order to prevent Friday’s flights, but Judge Warren Deering rejected the request.
″There is no showing at this stage of the lawsuit of any unlawful action by the governor or abuse of his discretion,″ Deering said, scheduling another hearing for July 14.
Attorney Dan Stormer, representing the ADA, said he was not discouraged by the judge’s ruling.
″He was referring, I believe, more to the showing we made at this time based on our limited ability to get these issues before the court,″ Stormer said.
The state’s Air National Guard has been taking military and embassy supplies to Central America since 1978. According to a National Guard spokesman, guardsmen from throughout the country have rotated two-week assignments in that region.
Deukmejian told reporters he was certain of his authority under the state constitution and statutes, and said there should be no ″major concern″ about the safety of National Guard troops on Central American missions.
″First of all, the members have gone there voluntarily. ... Secondly they are not involved in any area where there is any open warfare,″ the governor said Thursday.
The latest mission was the second ordered by Deukmejian in two months. On April 30 guardsmen were sent to Honduras to provide security on a road construction project 120 miles from the Nicaraguan border.
The 146th has 16 aircraft and 1,500 personnel, most of them part-time soldiers. About 300 are in the full-time program, Jepsen said.