Guard commander: Georgia safer, but must stay vigilant

DULUTH - Georgia is safer and more prepared since the Sept. 11 attacks, the state's homeland security chief said Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the events that changed America. But there is more work to be done.

"We're still vulnerable," said Maj. Gen. William Nesbitt, who is also commanding general of the Georgia Army National Guard. "We have an enemy who has said they are willing to strike again. We've been fortunate so far that we have detected and defeated other attempts."

Before a speaking engagement with the Gwinnett Rotary Club, Nesbitt remembered an interruption to a staff meeting that fateful morning in September to tell the leaders of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center.

When the second plane hit, Nesbitt and his colleagues began to look into resources.

He remembers wondering whether important landmarks in Atlanta such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Reserve Bank would become targets.

Within weeks, units were mobilized to help with the national response.

Currently 580 Army guardsmen and 250 Air guardsmen are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nesbitt said the numbers are due to an "operational lull," and more soldiers will soon be sent overseas.

Other guardsmen, Nesbitt said, are stationed throughout the country providing protection.

"I think Gwinnett County, when you look around the country, is a leader in terms of preparedness," Nesbitt said. "I think we all have to be concerned. ... Vigilance is a very important part. That's something that all of us can do. We are out in the community, in the areas of interest that might be targets. We don't need to be paranoid, but we do need to recognize this is something we'll be living with for a long time."

More than 100 Georgians, including 26 members of the Georgia National Guard, have died in the Global War on Terrorism.

While the general said the decision to begin a war in Iraq is debatable, he said he believes pulling troops out of the country could be devastating to America's future.

"It's certainly a bittersweet occasion," Nesbitt said of the anniversary. "We are remembering what happened six years ago. It's a somber occasion, but it gives us the opportunity to remember those who have sacrificed their lives."

Nesbitt has been selected to replace Lt. Gen. David Poythress as Georgia's adjutant general, when Poythress retires in November.