Montana National Guard troops stood guard duty over prisons and cared for the elderly on Saturday, the third day of a state employees strike.

"This is something we don't train for, but it's like my sergeant writes on the bottom of all his memos: Improvise, adapt, overcome," said Capt. Douglas Rude of the Guard's 163rd Infantry Battalion, which was sent to the Montana Center for the Aged in Lewistown to help feed and care for 139 elderly and ill patients.Steve Johnson, chief labor negotiator for the state, said Saturday he would meet informally with union officials over the weekend.

"Whenever there's hope for talks, there's hope for settlement, but we're still quite a ways apart," said Jim McGarvey of the striking Montana Federation of State Employees.

About 5,000 workers, including prison guards, Highway Patrol officers, clerks and attendants at the state's mental hospital and home for mentally retarded walked off the jobs Friday in a dispute over wages.