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A Move From Khaki to Blue

 

January 22, 2004
At the Gates of West Point, a Move From Khaki to Blue
By MAREK FUCHS

 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/22/nyregion/22academy.html

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 mall-cop blue.

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 control.

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 Cassella.

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 replace.

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. 

 

 

 

 
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