FORT KNOX, Ky. — Does your morning commute onto Fort Knox seem slightly longer these days?
Fort Knox Directorate of Emergency Services officials say it’s a result of budgetary constraints and manpower shortages as well as the increasingly greater return of the workforce as telework wanes.
“There’s a perception that if I’m not through the gate in 30 seconds or less, I’m having to wait too long,” said Lt. Col. David Little, director of DES. “At larger installations like Fort Bragg [North Carolina] or Fort Hood [Texas], you’re going to waiting 10 or 15 minutes to get through the gate.”
Little said at least some of those perceptions stem from what installation personnel have grown accustomed to experiencing during COVID-19 restrictions in 2020.
“We had maybe 25% of our population coming onto base, so people were sailing right through the gates,” said Little.
The vast majority of personnel from U.S. Army Human Resources Command, in particular, and many other major commands in general on post were teleworking from home by April of that year. Many organizations had their personnel slowly return to office environments as the year progress.
“Since the COVID restrictions stopped and leaders have started bringing more folks back to work, there has been an increase in traffic,” said Little, “so that person who is used to a 30-second wait time is now sometimes having a two or three-minute wait time.”
The U.S. Army Installation Command standard, which officials say will trigger the need for additional guards or other creative measures to ensure personnel get on post in a timely manner, is 15 minutes. Guard manager Robert Herrington said the average time it takes personnel to pass through a gate remains well below that threshold.
“The average right now is four to five minutes during the worst times,” said Herrington. “Brandenburg Gate is averaging three to four minutes.”
Herrington said they have received some complaints about wait times at Brandenburg due to guards restricting entrance to just one lane; however, during peak hours, entrance is available in two to three lanes.
“My guard out there has a standard,” said Herrington. “When one lane of traffic gets to the bridge, another lane gets opened up.”
Little and Herrington said some of the issues with increased wait times are stemming from recent policy changes that restrict the amount of overtime hours DES officials are authorized to pay out. Prior to the restrictions, Fort Knox guards had logged over 10,000 hours of overtime in 2020.
“I’m being constrained in overtime dollars while currently short about 14 gate guards,” said Little.
Under the new policy, all overtime authorizations must be approved and justified.
“I have to justify every overtime hour I use,” said Little. “I can’t go to the senior commander and say, ‘I am 12 minutes under the IMCOM standard, but please let me use overtime to reduce times at the gate because I received a complaint from someone having to wait three minutes to get in.”
Convenience is not considered a factor in the overtime authorizations, so as long as guards are able to get personnel safely through a gate within the 15-minute window, said Little, even with the reduction in guards, overtime will be denied.
Another alternative for commuters, according to Little, is to use a less utilized gate.
“Not every gate is the same,” said Little. “You may have a three-minute wait at the main gate, but you can come through Wilson Gate and there will be a zero-minute wait. Even if everybody at HRC came back to work, it might get up to a three-minute wait time.”
Little said his bottom line is this; force protection standards will not be compromised for the sake of convenience:
“I need to have enough personnel to enforce entrance into the gates for the safety and security of the post.”