By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

There was no shortage of smiles yesterday at the Del Norte County Airport when Col. William H. Wade II informed U.S. National Guardsmen their duty was nearly up.

andquot;We're getting close to the end of our mission and you men did an excellent job,andquot; Wade said to the six guardsmen who have been stationed at the airport since Oct. 19. andquot;By the 10th of May we will be out of all the airports. Until that time, remember to stay focused, visible and aware at all times.andquot;

Capt. Doug Plack of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department told Wade he was sorry to see the soldiers depart.

andquot;Your men have been really instrumental in maintaining security and have done a top-notch job,andquot; said Plack. andquot;Even though it's a small airport, the job is just as important as the larger airports.andquot;

After May 10, the sheriff's office will be responsible for providing security at the airport. Plack said yesterday it is still uncertain how the short-handed office will work out a schedule for it.

Give or take a few weeks, the six soldiers who have been stationed in Del Norte since October are Sgt. Leonard Holly, Sgt. Clifford Surratt of Eureka, Sgt. Allen Meitner of Ferndale, Specialist Steven Smith of Hydesville, Specialist Jeffrey Graham of Arcata and Specialist Richard Eneim of Fortuna.

Wade arrived in Del Norte on a Black Hawk helicopter after meeting soldiers at airports in Sacramento, Chico and Redding. He left Del Norte en route to Arcata.

Wade, who has 30 California airports under his command, will be visiting soldiers today in Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco - the last being manned by 106 soldiers.

The soldiers arrived in Del Norte County in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when four commercial airliners were hijacked on the East Coast. Three of the jets were used as weapons and flown into the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.