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U.S. Navy Raises BarriersTo Protect Base at Norfolk 


by Harold Kennedy 

A gray rigid hull inflatable boat—commonly called a RHIB—roared past the warships lined up along the piers at the U.S. Naval Station at Norfolk, Va. The scene caught the eye of the base security director, Lt. Cmdr. Tito M. Arandela Jr., who was cruising the harbor in one of his five patrol craft.

“Those guys seem to be having way too much fun,” he muttered. The trio was probably from one of the ships in the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group, just back from combat operations in the Arabian Sea, he said. He radioed another patrol boat to pull them over, find out who they are and tell them to slow down.

On this warm, sunny morning, several RHIBs were in the water, performing routine security patrols around their ships and running other chores. It was all perfectly normal, but speeding boats make Arandela nervous, he said.

A speeding boat in a crowded harbor is always dangerous, he noted. Navy officers have been particularly wary of such boats since one attacked the USS Cole in Yemen a year and a half ago, killing 17 U.S. sailors. The Cole returned to Norfolk in April after receiving $250 million in repairs.

What the sailors in the speeding RHIB didn’t realize, Arandela said, was that, at the moment, “we have no idea who they are. We don’t know whether that boat is one of ours or not.”

Security—known in Pentagon jargon as “force protection”—has been emphasized repeatedly throughout the military services in recent years, particularly after the Cole incident and again after last September’s assaults against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In 2003, the Navy plans to spend more than $600 million for security improvements, including additional personnel, detection devices, fencing, waterside barriers, guard shelters, patrol craft and training, according to Rear Adm. Christopher Cole, director of the Navy’s Ashore Readiness Division.

The Navy’s master-at-arms force—traditionally assigned to maintain law and order aboard ships and shore stations—is being expanded from 1,800 to 9,000, and its focus is switching to force protection. “We’re creating a professional security force,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Steffens, the force protection officer for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, headquartered in Norfolk.

Until recently, providing security was often a part-time or temporary assignment for sailors, particularly on Navy ships, Steffens told National Defense. In contrast, the masters-at-arms, or MAs, serve as full-time security personnel, he said. Their work uniforms typically are Marine-style camouflage battle dress, rather than Navy dungarees.

Previously, a sailor had to be a petty officer third class or above to become an MA, but to meet the increased need, the Navy has opened the field to entry-level personnel. MA schools have been set up at large naval bases, such as Norfolk, to provide training in investigation, protective service, small-arms instruction, K-9 (dog) handling and other security techniques. The Navy also is encouraging sailors in other assignments to become MAs and for civilians with law-enforcement experience to join up.

In November, the service opened an Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection Warfare Center at its Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, just outside of Norfolk. Its job is to develop tactics, equipment and training to combat terrorists, Steffens said.

Anti-Terrorism Training
The center offers courses for anti-terrorism officers, who are assigned now to every command to develop security plans for their units, and for their commanders, who have to implement those plans. It also provides training on force-protection fundamentals, including shipboard security, small-arms instruction and the fine points of visiting, boarding, searching and seizing other ships.

Even recruits soon may be receiving increased security instruction as part of their basic training. The chief of naval education and training has approved a recommendation from a board of advisors, made up of 16 senior enlisted personnel, that recruits get more small-arms instruction, a key element in force protection.

Currently, recruits train on laser-guided M-16 rifles and live fire with 9 mm handguns. The board has recommended that they increase training with the handgun and receive live-fire instruction with the Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun.

At the moment, trained security personnel are in such short supply that, immediately after September 11, the Navy issued a stop-loss order delaying retirements and separations from service within that job specialty.

In addition, 5,000 Navy reservists have been mobilized for up to a year to perform security-related duties. Norfolk’s Security Department has received 100 of them, Arandela said. Some of them were trained already as masters at arms, and others received schooling when they reported, he said.

Without the reservists, Arandela said, his department would have had a hard time keeping up with the increased workload since September. Maintaining security at Norfolk Naval Station is no easy task, even in the best of times, he said.

With 54,000 military personnel and 11,000 civilians, it is the largest facility in the U.S. Navy. Based there are 77 ships, 16 aviation squadrons with 138 aircraft and 115 other commands. The place, Arandela said, never sleeps.

Because of Norfolk’s size and its assets, security always has been important, and it is more so during the war on terrorism, Arandela said. Patrols are conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Security Department tries to keep three patrol craft in the water all of the time, but it is difficult, said Donald Baldridge, the leading petty officer for harbor patrol. Four of the department’s five boats are getting old and require a lot of maintenance, he said. “The old boats have to come in every five hours for fuel and oil,” he said.

When Baldridge—who is a reservist—came on board in January, one of the first steps that he took was to beef up the boats’ maintenance program to match the increased workload, he said. “It just so happens that this is what I do in the outside world,” he said.

The department has one new boat—a 10-meter RHIB—that is “much bigger and more seaworthy” than the older ones, Baldrige said. It can put in a 12-hour day without refueling, he said, and it is equipped with:

A global positioning system and two M-60 machine guns—standard equipment on the older boats—are waiting to be installed, Baldridge said.

Arandela plans eventually to replace all of his older craft with new ones, but that may take awhile, since they cost $350,000 apiece, he noted. In the meantime, he explained, he has other assets to help maintain security at Norfolk.

For one thing, he relies upon patrol craft from the ships, which are in the water virtually every day, to help keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

Also, in recent months, the installation has experimented with several floating port barrier systems to keep non-Navy boats away from the piers, Arandela said. A number of different systems probably will be needed, he said, to deal with varying conditions, such as wind and surf, found along Norfolk’s 14-mile shoreline.

The barriers are important because the base is close to a major shipping lane for the area, he said. “We’re right next to the Elizabeth Channel. That’s like having a house just off I-95.”

In the summer, the channel swarms with pleasure boaters, who seem fascinated with the big Navy ships, Arandela explained. “We used to have them pull up close to our ships while they were getting ready to deploy or to dock,” he said. “With the barriers, that’s pretty much disappeared.”

In addition, the Coast Guard is distributing leaflets and posters warning civilian vessels not to come within 100 yards of any Navy ship without permission. Within 500 yards of such a vessel, other ships must operate at minimum speed and follow any instructions from Navy or Coast Guard authorities. Failure to do so is a felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

The Navy is working closely with the Coast Guard to protect ports such as Norfolk. The Navy has assigned 13 of its special-operations vessels to the Coast Guard for coastal-patrol and port-security duties in various locations.

Before entering the port, captains of commercial vessels that weigh more than 300 tons are required to contact authorities 96 hours in advance, with information about their cargo, crew and ship, according to Coast Guard Capt. David Butler, head of the Hampton Roads Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC). Hampton Roads is the cluster of ports at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, which includes Norfolk.

If there are any doubts about a ship’s reliability, it may be boarded and inspected, Butler said. Since September, he said, there have been 60 security boardings in the waters near Norfolk.

The JHOC, established in November, serves as a command and control center for maritime security in the port. It has occupied an old, 247-foot degaussing tower at the entrance to the base’s waterfront, with a sweeping view of the piers, ships, channel and sea beyond. The center is equipped with radar, surveillance cameras and other sensors to track the movement of ships as distant as 12 miles from shore.

“This is kind of a pilot project,” Butler said. “If it is deemed worthy, it will be exported to other major ports.”

Security also is being tightened on land. Until recently, Norfolk was open to all visitors. Now, all drivers entering the base must present identification with a photograph, and their vehicles are subject to search. With nearly 24,000 commuters coming to work each morning, this has resulted in new traffic headaches, Arandela admitted. To help speed the process, the Navy has added more security personnel at the gates and increased the number of inbound lanes at some entrances from seven to 10.

Initially, after the September attacks, the base was closed completely to outsiders, but it reopened to tours in January. This summer, the base’s Tours and Information Office expects to welcome 13 buses of tourists a day, according to spokesperson Terri Davis.

New guard shelters are being built at entrances and at both ends of piers, Arandela pointed out. Unlike older “guard shacks,” the new shelters are climate-controlled, with radio and telephone links. They are equipped with bright interior lighting, exterior floodlights, loudspeakers and large, plexiglass windows, offering a 360-degree view of the perimeter. Some also have electronic sensors, such as video cameras and metal detectors.

Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, told National Defense that he is fairly pleased with the new security measures. “We’ve had significant increases in funding and resources since the Cole and certainly since September 11,” he said.

The important thing, he said, is to weave all of the new equipment, personnel and training into a “seamless,” impenetrable system of protection for the fleet. “If we leave a seam open, the terrorists will find that seam and attack us there,” he said.

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