FORT KNOX, Ky. — Motorists who pass through one of the gates at Fort Knox witness a common sight: men and women in dark blue jackets observing and assisting those who wish to enter the installation.
In the COVID-19 world in which everybody operates these days, what motorists don’t commonly witness is what the guards do to protect those who work inside.
“There’s criminal activity which happens outside the gates,” said Lt. Col. David Little, director of Emergency Services at Fort Knox. “These [guards] are really the unsung heroes who keep so many of the violent warrants and so much of the drugs from entering this post.”
Besides controlling access to Fort Knox through the gates, the guards also process visitor applications for passes at the Visitor Center, and ensure everybody who enters the installation has been vetted according to regulation and law.
Jamie Desrochers, physical security manager at the Directorate of Emergency Services, said it’s that law — Public Law 110-181, Section 1069 (122 STAT. 326) — which governs the requirement for guards to ensure safety and security at military installations worldwide.
“This is not about being a gated community,” said Desrochers. “A lot of this stems from the 9/11 Commission report, when they increased a lot of the security measures.”
The law is designed to establish two main requirements for identifying everybody who enters the installation: a fitness status, and a physical status.
“We’re checking their criminal history, and then we’re physically checking that the identification of the person entering is matching the person that is in the vehicle,” said Desrochers.
Chief Bob Herrington, Fort Knox’s lead for the security guards, said they are professional, courteous and very good at what they do.
Just in the last six months, gate guards have observed and monitored about 2 million personnel entering Fort Knox and they have vetted nearly 40,000 new visitors. In that time, they stopped 16 people with warrants for their arrest, denied entry to 397 with a criminal history, prevented 16 from entering with suspected drugs, confiscated seven unauthorized weapons, halted eight from entering while driving under the influence of alcohol and discovered two unauthorized people being smuggled in the trunk of a vehicle.
The guards have also identified countless people with routine driving violations.
“There are some who will deliberately try to deceive the guards and bring somebody on the installation that’s not allowed on,” said Desrochers. “That leads to us finding people hiding in the trunks of cars, or trying to use a relative’s identification card.
“The guards have a very important responsibility.”
Little said the critical nature of that responsibility and its direct link to law enforcement is why the guards wear uniforms very similar to those of his police officers.
“We’re all one team here, but [the guards] have an important role as the first contact the public has with Fort Knox while keeping the community safe and secure,” said Little. “They’re not thanked enough for what they do.”
Herrington pointed out how guards often perform their duties under manning shortages. These shortages are due to a difficulty in hiring the right personnel for the job coupled with the amount of time it takes to get them through the hiring process and trained before they ever set foot in a booth.
Those shortages can sometimes take an extra toll on the guard force when sickness hits.
“With just COVID alone, we had eight to 10 guards come down with it last year,” said Herrington.
When sickness sweeps through the team, Herrington’s work takes on a higher level of stress. But even when everyone is healthy, there are still shortages. In 2020, shortages amounted to a combined tally of nearly 10,000 overtime hours; in January of this year, guards logged almost 2,000 hours.
“Right now, I have shortages,” said Herrington. “It has been like this for a while, but it’s just part of the hiring process.”
That hiring process involves 80-90 days of checks and training before someone joins the ranks, even after they accept a position.
The guards who make it through the training process and serve at the gates prove their worth every day, Herrington said. He highlighted one incident on Dec. 19, 2020, as an example.
On that morning, Lt. Jesus Roman, Officer Ali Kadim and another guard settled into their jobs at Chaffee Gate when a car rounded the final corner toward the entry control point at around 9 a.m. Kadim was working at the Visitor Center.
The driver rolled up slowly and stopped short of the gate. After Roman and the other guard waved at him to pull forward, he did so a couple of more times, each time stopping short and getting more agitated with each passing moment.
The motorist suddenly revved his engine and sped toward the gate arm, smacking it outward as he rushed past the guard booths. Roman ordered traffic halted and the final barrier raised, stopping the driver from proceeding in the car.
The driver exited and attempted to enter the Army post on foot. Both guards, joined by Kadim, wrestled the motorist down and handcuffed him before the police arrived.
“My guards reacted exactly like they were supposed to, and you know, not knowing what’s coming is a normal day for them,” said Herrington. “Any day can bring something different for them, and they’re ready for it.”
Roman, an Army veteran, said he considers it an honor and a privilege to serve the Fort Knox community as a guard.
“I am fully dedicated to this job,” said Roman. “I was destined to become an Army person. Even at the age of 61, I am still able to do this job. This is what I love.”
He explained that he and his fellow guards are not looking to make people’s lives miserable; their focus is far more critical.
“I believe that what we do is very important, and I act like it,” said Roman, “I’m not here because I’m looking for a job, or a paycheck. I’m here to defend, to protect, the residents of Fort Knox.”