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Military gate security privatized

By Greg Gelpi

Sgt. David Burns, 48, has never been in the U.S. Army, but he is stationed at the gate of Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson working security.

Burns, a private citizen with six years in law enforcement, is part of the change in gate security taking place at all Army bases. The change replaces military police with private contract workers with Alutiiq, an Alaska-based security company.

"The only thing that is different is the color of the uniform," said Lt. Col. Peter Trebotte, garrison provost marshal.

Those entering and leaving the military bases won't notice anything different, and, in fact, many in the community have given positive feedback, Trebotte said.

"When this came open, it sounded like an honorable way to serve in a civilian manner," Burns, a Powder Springs resident, said.

He added that the civilian employees have particular reasons to perform their job well.

"We can be fired," Burns said. "They couldn't. They could be reprimanded if they made a mistake. We can be terminated."

Dewayne Lewis, 38, of Norcross explained the procedures the contract employees undertake to work the gates at the bases, procedures that were in place when military police performed that function.

As traffic winds around the turn to enter the main gate of Fort McPherson, Lewis said guards "lock on" windshields and watch as vehicles enter the military installation, look for suspicious activity and contraband and check each person in the vehicle for proper identification. Guards also check all commercial vehicles, inspecting under the hood and using a mirror to search underneath.

"We're primarily access control," Burns said, adding that about 1,500 vehicles pass through the gates daily.

The army was in the process of restricting access to bases at the time of 9/11, Trebotte said, explaining that the terrorist attacks triggered immediate changes in access to bases, which previously had been "quite open."

The war on terrorism requires the use of military personnel in various combat situations, he said. Initially, national guardsmen replaced military police at the gates "freeing them up" for other duties, and the recent change to private citizens is the next phase of the changes.

"Access control won't change," Trebotte said. "Who does it is the only thing that could."

By fiscal year 2008, Trebotte said that the garrison will be reduced to two military police positions, one of which is his.