About 300 people gathered at the Air National Guard headquarters in Van Nuys on Sunday to protest the use of state troops by the federal government to transport supplies and passengers in Central America.
"We want California to reclaim its Air Guard," said Rae Wilken, one of the protest organizers. "We appreciate the guard for its rescue and firefighting work, not for servicing military intervention in Central America."
Protesters maintain that National Guard troops are being used to build roads in Honduras and provide other services that aid the U.S.-backed contras who are fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
"I want all the people driving by to know that the Guard are being used as errand boys for terrorism," said David Clennon, a Sherman Oaks resident.
"They are part of a logistical support network of the U.S. military," he said.
The protest was organized by the Office of the Americas, the Pledge of Resistance, the Interfaith Task Force on Central America and the New Jewish Agenda.
The Van Nuys-based 146th Tactical Airlift Wing--the largest Air National Guard unit in the country--has been flying missions in Central America since 1978, along with Air National Guard units from at least 20 other states.
National Guard and Air Force spokesmen say the Air Guard planes do not fly secret missions or in combat zones, but fly supplies and passengers between U.S. diplomatic missions and military bases in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The 146th has been assigned to at least six, two-week tours in the past year. The most recent one ended Jan. 31.
Rabbi Allen Freehling, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said that most people are not aware the National Guardsmen are used in Central America. The current U.S. policy requiring Guard support of the contras is "a moral outrage," Freehling said.
"We should let the people in Central America decide for themselves what form of government they want," said Freehling, who is rabbi at the University Synagogue in Brentwood.
Several people supporting U.S. policy in Central America demonstrated briefly across the street from the main group of protesters. Larry King, a UCLA student and county chairman for the California Young Americans for Freedom, said he opposes the Sandinista government in Nicaragua because of its ties to the Soviet Union.
Opponents of the Guard's involvement in Central America have tried in both the courts and the Legislature to block the missions. A federal law passed last October provides that governors may not withhold approval of overseas training for a National Guard unit because of objections to the location or purpose of the training.
Gov. George Deukmejian has gone on record against the law, but he has said he does not plan to challenge it. He has specifically approved each of the recent Air National Guard missions to Central America.
The protest, which lasted for about two hours, was not marked by any violence or arrests.