January 22, 2004
At the Gates of West Point, a Move From Khaki to Blue
By MAREK FUCHS
When it comes to standing guard at the gates of the United States
Military Academy at West Point, the hallowed military ground where the
careers of George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower
were forged, it's out with military-issued camouflage and in with
Beginning in May, private security guards will replace National
Guardsmen as part of a Defense Department initiative to have civilian
contractors take over tasks like base security with the hope of
lightening the load for military personnel so they can focus on more
important tasks, like Iraq.
"The contracts will free up soldiers to do jobs that only soldiers can
do," said Maj. Kent Cassella, a spokesman for West Point, which plays
host to surges of 40,000 visitors on football game days.
Before Sept. 11, gate duties at West Point were handled by a company of
military police, but security was cursory, said Major Cassella, and
though there were spot checks, pretty much anyone who wanted to could
get onto the grounds. The terrorist attacks created a need for
round-the-clock protection of a higher order at the academy's three
opened gates, too large a commitment for the military police, who are
also responsible for basic police functions like traffic and crowd
National Guard troops in two units, about 100 at a time, were then
rotated in to protect the gates, and there were no incidents, said Major
On May 1, however, the private guards will begin to arrive, with some
overlap to ensure a smooth transition before they take over from the
National Guard at the end of the month.
Alutiiq Security and Technology, an Anchorage, Alaska, company, will be
providing the guards, subcontracting with Wackenhut Services of Florida
to provide additional guards. Both firm names will appear on the guards'
uniform patches, with Alutiiq higher and bigger. Bruce Swagler, the
contracts program manager for Alutiiq, said that though final figures
had not been agreed on, he expected to provide West Point with 100 to
160 guards for $4 million to $5 million annually, which will pay for
everything from offices to uniforms to weapons. Major Cassella said the
contract should run through 2007.
Mr. Swagler added that the company, under a larger agreement with the
Defense Department, was already providing private security guards at
Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, home
of the Army War College. He expects to be rolling out private security
guards to more than 10 other military installations in the spring.
There is a challenge to finding guards near West Point, Mr. Swagler
acknowledged, what with the population in the general vicinity a little
heavier on retired investment bankers than on the retired military
personnel who often surround the military bases the company works with.
"West Point is also so officer heavy, and we usually recruit from the
enlisted ranks," he said. Advertising, though, will begin this weekend,
in local as well as military papers and on Monster.com. The company
looks for retired law enforcement officials, too, and though the new
guards in charge of watching West Point will be armed, they will not be
on the same footing in terms of weaponry as the guards they will
Nine-millimeter pistols and shotguns will be the order of the day, and
standard-issue M-16s will be out.
Major Cassella does not think that having private guards in blue will
diminish West Point's mystique. He says the public will see it as
another way Sept. 11 changed conventions.