Post adjusts for loss of gate guards
June 13, 2012
By Vince Little
FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 13, 2012) -- The Directorate of Emergency Services has a message for Fort Benning personnel who commute every day at rush hour: You might want to leave for work a little earlier and expect a longer wait at main gates.
Fort Benning Police Chief Kevin Clarke said the situation can be traced to the ongoing cutbacks under way in the Army civilian gate guard force. It will result in fewer lanes open at the installation's larger access control points and closure of two smaller ones.
"The simple answer is we're in a hiring freeze," he said. "That hiring freeze is causing attrition in our guard force. We're losing 'term' guards, and we can't rehire additional personnel to replace them due to the hiring freeze."
Fort Benning began the year with almost 140 guards on the DES roster, Clarke said. It's at 117 now and expected to drop below 100 by November.
To mitigate the loss, he said officials are shutting down a pair of low-volume gates this summer. By Friday, ACP 9 on Buena Vista Road will be closed, and ACP 5B -- which provides access to St. Mary's Road via Custer Road, north of Sand Hill's Patton Village -- will close Aug. 1.
"We do digital counts of traffic. Both are the lowest-volume, smallest ACPs we have," Clarke said. "We'd prefer to keep full manning at our major ACPs -- Benning Boulevard, Harmony Church and I-185."
The tire shredder, or "Tiger Teeth," at ACP 5B will remain, which allows 24/7 outbound traffic but prevents motorists from entering post there, the police chief said. ACP 9, on the other hand, was built specifically for supply trucks and large pieces of equipment arriving from Fort Knox, Ky., and other locations as part of Base Realignment and Closure and only intended to stay open long enough to facilitate the construction. A year ago, about 1,000 vehicles a day used the gate; the number is half that today.
By comparison, he said, the I-185 ACP gets up to 14,000 vehicles on a typical workday.
"It just doesn't make sense to keep a smaller gate open when there's a 20-minute wait at the I-185 ACP," he said.
If the staffing trend continues, Clarke said additional small-gate closures, if necessary, would be based on the attrition rate.
As those ACPs are sealed off, DES will use guards normally stationed there to plug holes at the larger gates to reduce wait times, he said.
"Right now, our term people are leaving faster than the length of their terms, when they find other permanent positions. And no one can blame them for that," he said.
"But we're seeing a degradation on the larger ACPs with fewer lanes available and traffic backing up. We hope by the end of the year that we're out of the hiring freeze and we won't have to do this anymore."
In the meantime, DES officials urge the public to be patient.
"We're closing a couple of smaller ACPs to put our main efforts at the big gates," Clarke said.
"So we're going to have traffic intermittently as we go through these growing pains of losing guards and shutting down missions. But our intent is to minimize delays.
"Everybody across the board is tightening down the thumbscrews on the budget. We're doing everything we can to get people in the gate as fast as we can."