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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America's bloodiest day
Military bases in Hawai'i placed on alert

By William Cole and Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writers

Long lines snaked outside O'ahu military bases yesterday as F-15 fighters escorted inbound commercial flights and Navy ships were ordered out of Pearl Harbor in response to terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

U.S. Navy personnel move barriers into place at Pearl Harbor's main gate. All bases were closed yesterday to nonessential personnel, and traffic backed up at single gates being used for access.

Associated Press

The Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered military bases nationwide to the highest terrorist threat security alert, "Force Protection Delta," a level of caution not seen in the Pacific since the 1990 Gulf War.

"We are taking increased force protection measures to ensure the security and safety of our people and military installations within the Pacific Theater of operations," the U.S. Pacific Command said.

At Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield, single gates were being used for access and exit, causing lengthy traffic backups.

It was a similar scene across the island, although personnel without essential business were ordered to stay off base.

Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Tate was one of hundreds of military and civilians lining Kane'ohe Bay Drive from Mokapu Boulevard to the front gate of Marine Corps Base Hawai'i yesterday in a tieup that lasted from before 6 a.m. to after 9 a.m.

Still on leave after his marriage three days earlier, the 22-year-old Marine had heard about the attacks and left his bride to set out for work. A bridal bouquet sat on the car seat beside him. He didn't know what the U.S. response would be, but he wanted to be available if needed.

"Whoever did this needs to be punished," he said. "Its important to the credibility of our country."

Tate said his bride, 20-year-old Rachel, wasn't keeping her upper lip quite as stiff as his own.

"She's scared," he said.

A similar backup at the front gate of Pearl Harbor Naval Base involving three lanes of traffic lasted well into the afternoon.

James Belcher, a 24-year-old Marine, said that when he joined up three years earlier, he knew there was a chance he could be called to war. He never felt that likelihood as deeply as yesterday morning, he said.

His wife knew it, too, and was shaken by the images she saw on television and the frightened phone calls from worried relatives in Canada.

"She says she's headed back to Canada as soon as everything clears up," Belcher said. He clutched the steering wheel and scanned the traffic, at a standstill.

Gabriel Tellez, a 28-year-old Navy hospital corpsman, said he and his wife had been up since 4:30 a.m. watching the horrifying images on television.

"It's pretty scary," he said. "The scariest part is not knowing how the U.S. is planning to deal with it."

Fighter jets sent

Military officials here and elsewhere were taking no chances. Hawai'i Air National Guard spokesman Maj. Chuck Anthony said four armed F-15 fighters from the 154th Wing at Hickam Air Force Base scrambled to escort more than a dozen commercial airline flights from Asia yesterday morning.

Some of the flights were destined for Hawai'i, while others had been diverted from Mainland cities.

"(The fighters) were there to identify the aircraft and make sure they safely touched down at the airport," Anthony said.

He said fighter jets had been sent up to meet incoming flights on the Mainland as well.

A "quick reaction force" of National Guard soldiers was assembled to support civilian security. Anthony said an undisclosed number of Guard troops took up behind-the-scenes positions at Honolulu airport.

Navy Cmdr. Roxie Merritt, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Fleet, said the destroyer USS Russell had been ordered out of Pearl Harbor yesterday morning. There are 13 surface ships whose homeports are Pearl Harbor.

"We always have ships out there," Merritt said. But the Russell left port for "increased protection and security." As to the destroyer's location, Merritt would say only, "She is in the local area and specifically on watch for this local area."

Schofield Barracks put in place a phone line yesterday for soldiers to talk to chaplains.

The post exchange and commissary at Fort Shafter and Schofield Barrack will remain closed until further notice. Schools on Army installations will remain closed today.

Security already high

O'ahu military bases already had been operating under heightened security, implemented in July at Hickam Air Force Base after the indictment of 14 people in connection with the 1996 bombing of a military barracks in Saudi Arabia. The Army beefed up security at all its bases in June, citing threats from burglaries to terrorist attacks.

"Force Protection Delta" represents the highest level on five levels of alert. The lowest level is threat condition normal.

Pacific Command spokesman Army Lt. Col. Stephen Barger said he could not discuss what specific threat Hawai'i might face, if any.

"As far as us discussing information gained as a result of intelligence, or generalities of the threats we face, we just won't go into that," Barger said.

He said Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, commander in chief of Pacific forces, was in Hawai'i yesterday.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll, who is affiliated with the Center for Defense Information in Washington D.C., said it is premature to predict what role Pacific forces may have in a response to the attack, "since we don't know who the offender is, or how we are going to respond once we find out."

Blair oversees about 300,000 military personnel in a command that covers half the globe and 43 countries as far west as India.

Carroll said Hawai'i's military is part of the U.S. defense strategy that has come under attack, but added, "I don't think Pearl Harbor will be ordered to alert for combat action."

He said Blair and other commanders in charge "will be consulted by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as far as what problems they see (following the attacks) and what action they recommend."

Military thinks differently

The Pacific Fleet's Merritt said she was not aware of increased tension on the part of military personnel here.

"We in the military know what we are getting into. We know we will go into harm's way to protect our country," she said. "So I think the mindset of the military is a little different than that of the general population. We've trained, and we're prepared and ready to respond to all types of situations."

Lucy Ransick, who along with her husband Army Col. James C. Ransick was visiting Hawai'i from Colorado Springs, said the possible response scenarios are frightening.

Her husband is the second of three generations of Army men. Their son is an Army Ranger, trained for special assignments. His parents do not know where he is at the moment.

"How many of our sons and daughters will we have to give up before the Palestinians stop celebrating in the streets?" she said angrily yesterday as the couple stood outside the Arizona Memorial, which was closed. James Ransick said he was glad to see that — he didn't think he could take the boat out to the sunken ship.

For him, the parallels between yesterday and Dec. 7, 1941, did not track exactly, but were close enough. "It is a wake-up call, just like that was," he said, nodding toward the harbor.

"They've awakened the sleeping giant."

Advertiser Staff Writers Scott Ishikawa and Jennifer Hiller contributed to this report.