Monday, July 19, 2021

The National Guard and the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Left: Georgia Army National Guard Sgt. Shane Obanion, pauses for a picture with a patriotic citizen before participating in the Olympic Torch Relay
near Fort McPherson. Obanion is  member of the National Guard marathon team.  Photo by Spc. Jeff Lowry. Right: Opening ceremonies of the
Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. Photo by Sgt. Thomas Meeks.

On July 19, 1996, the opening ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta welcomed more than 10,000 athletes from nearly 200 nations.[1]  Nearly 14,000 National Guardsmen from 47 states supported the Olympic Games in the largest National Guard peacetime support mission of the 20th Century.[2] Citizen Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard worked with civilian volunteers as well as state and federal agencies supporting Olympic events from the Tennessee border to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.


Lieutenant General Edward D. Baca, chief of the National Guard Bureau addresses Georgia National Guardsmen of the 190th Military Police Company
before the start of their duty day. Photo by Staff Sgt. Gail Parnelle

Securing the Games

Preparations began shortly after the International Olympic Commission announced the awarding of the Olympic Games to Atlanta in September 1990. Initial plans called for the activation of 2,000 to 3,000 Georgia Guardsmen and assignment of 8,000 Army Soldiers to bolster civilian security efforts; however, the Department of Defense General Counsel ruled that the use of active military personnel in security roles might violate the Posse Comitatus Act which limits the use of federal military forces in law enforcement activities.[3] The security gap would ultimately be filled by the National Guard and its Citizen Soldiers and Airmen. Initially, National Guard personnel were to be mobilized in state active-duty status; however, due to myriad state laws, NGB authorized the use of annual training status which cleared the way for all participating states to equally fund their assigned units.[4]


Under the direction of Maj. Gen. William P. Bland, Georgia’s Adjutant General, The Georgia National Guard established two task forces: TF Centennial Guard and TF 165.


ATLANTA, July 31, 1996 – Sergeant 1st Class Randall Webb of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 121st Infantry Regiment directs visitors to events near the
Georgia Dome during the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. Photo by Staff Sgt. Gail Parnelle.

TF Centennial Guard

Aviation support, equipment and facility use, liaison and venue security were key mission elements of TF Centennial, commanded by Ga. ARNG Col. Robert Hughes. Task Force Centennial Guard established military venue officers to liaise with law enforcement and augment venue security. Base support officers helped coordinate support for National Guard personnel from other states who would provide critical support to security operations. Over the course of the Olympic Games, more than 11,000 National Guard personnel were assigned to TF Centennial with a peak strength of 7,000.[5]


An air crew of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 148th Medical Company (Air Ambulance). Conducts a medical evacuation training exercise in support of
the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta in July 1996. photo by Spc. Jeff Lowry.

National Guard aviation assets were key to TF Centennial Guard. Guard aviators provided aerial reconnaissance to help coordinate traffic flow on the ground and stood ready to provide medical evacuation in the event of an emergency. Aviators from Arizona, Indiana, New Mexico and Tennessee joined Georgia Guardsmen in flying more than 600 mission hours in 22 aircraft, in addition to 700 hours in the days preceding the Games.[6]


In addition to the federal missions, TF Centennial Guard fielded two missions at the direction of the Governor of Georgia. These state active-duty missions were Team Hotel and TF 121.


ATLANTA, July 1996 – Georgia Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Patrick McNaughton of Company H, 121st Infantry,
Long Range Surveillance Unit checks security points and ensures his Soldiers have food and water for the day’s duties
during the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. Photo by Staff Sgt. Fred Baker

Team Hotel was a 275-member special unit of Georgia Guardsmen tasked to secure the Olympic Village from July 1 to August 5, 1996. Team Hotel was comprised of Company H, 121st Infantry Regiment, Long Range Surveillance Unit; 178th Military Police Company and the 190th MP Company.[7] 


Following the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park, TF 121 was established to augment security at Olympic venues across the state. The task force was composed of more than 450 Georgia Guardsmen of the 48th Infantry Brigade, recently returned from a Fort Irwin National Training Center mobilization. Units of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment with units based in Winder, Gainesville, Covington, Lawrenceville, Eatonton and Milledgeville were supplemented by cavalry scouts of the Griffin-based Troop E, 108th Cavalry and received training at the Georgia State Patrol Training Center in Forsyth, Ga. They performed security operations in conjunction with Soldiers of the Indiana National Guard operating metal detectors and staffing baggage check stations.[8]


TF 165

ATLANTA, July, 1996 – Georgia Air National Guard Major
Randy Scamihorn goes over security requirements with Olympic volunteer
Debra Johnson. Georgia National Guard photo by TSgt. Rick Cowan
Task Force 165 was commanded by Georgia Air National Guard Col. Steve Westgate, commander of the 165th Airlift Wing. In addition to providing military support for Olympic events in the Savannah vicinity, TF 165 established satellite communication networks in support of events statewide. Leading the communications effort was the 283rd Communications Squadron along with personnel and equipment from the 117th Air Control Squadron and 224th Joint Communication Support Squadron. [9]


The Ga. ANG’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Savannah hosted 600 U.S. Coast Guard personnel who supported Olympic marina events. The CRTC and other base camps of TF 165 offered medical, transportation and laundry services 24 hours a day throughout the games.[10]

Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by TF 165 was the approach of Hurricane Bertha which prompted the evacuation of personnel and athletes from the Olympic marina on July 10, 1996. Events were delayed two days until the track of Hurricane Bertha carried it away from the Georgia Coast.[11] 


Department of Defense Support

The National Guard Bureau coordinated personnel and equipment resources for the Centennial Olympic Games that were beyond Georgia’s capability. A primary contributor was the 38th Infantry Division with units from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Major General Robert Mitchell, commander of the 38th Infantry Division recalled the Olympic mission.


“The real value of (the Olympics mission) was the performance of the individual Guardsman,” said Mitchell. “Each was a true ambassador of goodwill representative of the games.”[12] 


Colonel Walter Corish, commander of the Ga. ANG, speaks with Army National Guard Soldiers of the 38th Infantry Division during operations supporting the
Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta in July 1996. Georgia National Guard Archives.

The U.S. Army Forces Command established a joint task force to coordinate all federal support to the Olympic Games by the Department of Defense. Commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert Hicks, Joint Task Force Olympics received and approved support requests, provided support to 10 base camps and assisted in the transportation of military personnel from base camps to Olympic venues. The JTFO tasked the Army’s 24th Corps Support Group to convert an abandoned Delta Airlines hangar into a main billeting area for Guardsmen. More than 4,000 Guardsmen and other military personnel stayed at the facility throughout the games.[13] 


Major General Hicks praised the efforts of the National Guard at the end of Olympic support operations.


“All National Guard members performed superbly,” said Hicks. “The world focused on our country as the host of the Olympic Games, and it was the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who made it possible to host the largest peacetime event in history.”[14]

[1] Jere Longman. “ATLANTA 1996: THE GAMES BEGIN; In Atlanta, Festivities Touched by Sorrow.” The New York Times, July 19, 1996 B13.


[2] Georgia National Guard. After Action Report Operation Centennial Guard: June 1, 1996-August 26, 1996. NP, Dec 20, 1996, 1.


[3] Georgia National Guard. After Action Report Operation Centennial Guard: June 1, 1996-August 26, 1996. 5.


[4] Georgia National Guard. After Action Report Operation Centennial Guard: June 1, 1996-August 26, 1996. 5.


[5] Georgia National Guard. 1996 Olympic Games Executive Summary. ND, NP, 2.


[6] Georgia National Guard. 1996 Olympic Games Executive Summary. 2.


[7] Fred Baker and Thomas Meeks. “Team Hotel Protects Olympic Athletes.” The Georgia Guardsman, Summer 1996, 19-22.


[8] Susan Kirkland. “Bombing Gives Guardsmen Double Duty.” The Georgia Guardsman. Summer 1996, 12.


[9] Wendy Thompson. “GSU’s Provide Communication Link.” The Georgia Guardsman. Summer 1996, 28.


[10] Wendy Thompson. “Task Force 165 a Huge Success.” The Georgia Guardsman, Summer 1996, 26-27.


[11] Georgia National Guard. 1996 Olympic Games Executive Summary. 1.


[12] Georgia National Guard. 1996 Olympic Games Executive Summary. 5.


[13] Toby Moore. “’A Massive Job’ The Guard’s Olympic Involvement.” The Georgia Guardsman, Summer 1996, 4-5.

[14] Georgia National Guard. 1996 Olympic Games Executive Summary. 5.

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