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COMMUNITY NEWS: MID-CITY

WESTLAKE : Guard(en) Party

April 11, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

Riot training has prepared the California National Guard to respond swiftly in the event of civil unrest, but there is nothing in the manual about what to do when Guard members are besieged by curious children clambering onto camouflaged vehicles.

Faced with that situation last week, members of the Guard's 40th Infantry Division and 540th Main Support Battalion decided to bring in the Easter Bunny, who handed out baskets of candy to dozens of children.

The occasion was a pre-Easter neighborhood party organized by Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union with the help of the National Guard.

The purpose of the gathering was to give union members and their families a chance to meet the citizen-soldiers and strengthen the Guard's relationship with the community, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11.

Last week's party was one of several events throughout the area designed to show another side of the National Guard, said Lt. Col. Charles Arce.

"We want everyone to see us as we are," Arce said. "With our rehearsal in February we've demonstrated that we're prepared if there's any trouble. Today the troops wanted to show that they can serve the community in their uniforms in other ways, taking time with the kids and getting to know their families."

As children scrambled into his vehicle, Spec. James Casassa, who patrolled the city last spring, said he hoped the Guard's presence at social gatherings would help people from being "freaked out if they see us" in the event of trouble.

Dennis Alvarado, 12, said he remembered seeing the troops in the streets last year. "They're cool," he said. "I think they did the right thing."

As the troops handed out hot dogs and soda, Nitza Blaustein, a union member, said it reminded her of the way the army interacts with civilians in her native Israel.

"It's important to explain what (the Guard's) role is so the kids know they are here to help," she said.

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