Homeland on guard

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By James W. Crawley STAFF WRITER

October 7, 2001

The Coast Guard stopping all boats entering San Diego Bay. Troops posted at power plants and airports. Military aircraft overhead looking for the enemy.

Is this 1941 or 2001?

For now, it's both.

Just like the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America has hunkered down and put up its guard against a threat against the homeland.

Before Sept. 11, homeland defense was largely an issue for Washington think-tank experts and congressional staffers, and it wasn't a front-burner topic for them.

But since the terrorist attacks, protecting the homeland has become the No. 1 priority on the national security agenda.

Thousands of National Guardsmen, reservists and federal law-enforcement officers have been drafted for security details. Even the Coast Guard Auxiliary has been enlisted to protect America.

In the days after Sept. 11, Navy ships scanned the skies and waters off the East and West coasts. Now, Air National Guard jets routinely orbit major cities, ready in an instant to track and shoot down suicide planes. Uniformed and armed Guardsmen are beefing up security at airports. The Coast Guard is enforcing new port restrictions and inspecting large cargo ships.

For most of the nation's history, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans had afforded Americans a strong sense of security.

Then the attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to bring war to the homeland. Cities were blacked out to deter enemy bombers. Coastal artillery batteries, including several on Point Loma, were manned. Patrol boats cruised off the coasts. Army troops patrolled the Mexican border.

After the war, the enemy became the Soviet Union and civil defense was the watchword. Fearing atomic bomb-carrying bombers, Nike missile sites were built near major cities, including Los Angeles. San Diego was guarded by a Navy interceptor squadron. Fallout shelters were stockpiled with cots, food and water. Schoolchildren were taught to "duck and cover" if and when the H-bomb exploded.

But the Soviet Union wilted away, and so did homeland defense worries.

Homeland defense "has moved up 10 places on the national security agenda," said Michael Scardaville, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. "It's first on everybody's mind."

The attacks proved that Americans are not living in "an invincible place on Earth where we can't be attacked."

In the rush to bolster security, while at the same time preparing for a war against terrorists, the Pentagon has called up nearly 26,000 reservists and Guardsmen since Sept. 20.

Most are needed for homeland security.

Fighter and refueling tanker pilots and aircraft mechanics got the first call. They spelled the active-duty military crews who spent most of a week flying "combat air patrols" over America.

In recent days, military police, port security and infantry units have been called up to help secure military bases, armories and important infrastructure locations, such as dams and nuclear power plants.

The National Guard has taken on the lion's share, said Lt. Gen. Paul Monroe, adjutant general of the California National Guard.

"I think the Guard will have a primary role in homeland defense," said Monroe, the state guard's top general.

Currently, more than 100 fighters, most flown by Air National Guardsmen, are on high alert nationwide. They are under the control of the North American Air Defense Command. On Sept. 10, only 20 fighters were on alert at any time.

Currently, F-16 fighters from a Fresno-based National Guard unit are on alert at various California air bases or flying patrols above cities, military officials said.

Only Washington, D.C., and New York remain protected by orbiting fighters on a 24-hour basis, said Army Maj. Barry Venable, an air defense command spokesman.

The most visible post-attack role started this past week when Guardsmen -- dressed in fatigues and armed with automatic weapons -- started backing up airport security. The troops will be paid by the federal government, but remain under state control.

On Friday, they took up positions at Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. Guardsmen should be on duty at Lindbergh Field by late next week, a Guard spokesman said.

So far, Monroe said, only 15 percent of California's force has been called up for duty.

Another active participant in homeland defense is the Coast Guard.

The service, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been working overtime to monitor ship traffic in San Diego Bay, which is the home of 59 Navy warships, including nuclear-powered carriers and submarines.

"Since Sept. 11, probably 60 (percent) to 70 percent of our job has been focused on (homeland defense) -- that's not an overestimate," said Capt. Robert Allen, who commands the local Coast Guard units.

The Coast Guard, with two large cutters, several smaller ones and small boats, is in charge of port security with help from the Navy, Harbor Police and Border Patrol.

The guard also is getting some much-needed assistance.

Auxiliary members of the Coast Guard -- unpaid volunteers using their own pleasure craft -- are helping patrol San Diego Bay and nearby waters, Allen said.

"We're filling in as eyes and ears," said Michael Saverson, an auxiliary division captain in San Diego.

While they aren't armed nor can they enforce laws, auxiliarists man eight or more boats daily on the bay looking for anything unusual, he said. Soon after the attacks, 50 auxiliarists from Arizona hauled 10 boats here to aid local members.

"We've been called out to do a job that no one predicted," Saverson said.

Without the auxiliary members, Allen said, he would have trouble meeting all of the Coast Guard's local duties.

One local congressman said homeland defense also means securing our borders and scrutinizing every truck or shipping container entering the United States.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, has championed a fence along the border with Mexico. So far, 54 miles of fence have been built, largely by National Guard engineers.

Hunter argued the fence, a deterrent for illegal border crossers, also would deter potential terrorists trying to drive weapons or bombs across rural areas along the border.

The congressman also wants more large X-ray machines, capable of scanning cargo trucks and 40-foot shipping containers, installed at U.S. Customs Service border crossings and seaports. Currently, only a small percentage of commercial vehicles are inspected or X-rayed.

"In this day of high tech, we're using cave man technology to check vehicles entering our borders," Hunter said.

But Hunter and others said that while securing ports and airports are a priority now, the biggest concern for homeland defense remains the fear of a rogue nation firing a nuclear-tipped missile, or unleashing a biological or chemical attack on America.

"The big threat is still WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," Scardaville said. "It's the most severe form of terrorism."

Yet most people remain focused on the recent attacks and efforts to prevent similar ones.

"It's shocking to see heavily armed men walking through (American) airports, but not if you've traveled in Europe," said Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution analyst in Washington, D.C.

He predicted Americans will adjust.

"Eventually, (heavy security) will be a normality."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 08, 2001


Mr. bin Laden calls this cowardice. I think he will soon learn the difference.

-- Chance (fruitloops@hotmail.com), October 08, 2001.

This sounds like a re-play of the first days of World War II to me.

-- Sparky (case@webtown.com), October 08, 2001.

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