Tuesday, July 29, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Our air base safe, secure

Little Rock Air Force Base officials went into high alert last week when they received a report of a suspicious person on base. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. But, even if there had been just a 1 percent chance of a maniac loose, the authorities had no choice but to close the base for several hours.

The incident occurred during an emergency-readiness exercise that started early last Wednesday morning. There was some confusion at first on whether a report of a person trying to forcibly gain access to a base building was part of the exercise or if someone suspected that a real troublemaker was making his way around the base. Investigators later found that “no threat existed,” according to a news release.

The base was locked down from 11:45 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. Airmen and civilians hid behind closed doors until the all-clear was sounded that afternoon. It was a tense day for thousands of people on base and for their loved ones waiting for word on the outside.

As one contractor said of her experience, “There was a moment when the atmosphere in the room turned from normal to intense, when things went from exercise to real world. We didn’t know details, just that we were on lockdown. The sirens were sounding every 10 minutes or so, and all we could do was sit in a locked room and wait.”

She added, “The airmen did their jobs, and everything turned out to be OK. Base leadership made the right call to investigate. They made sure we were safe.”

Col. Patrick Rhatigan, 19th Airlift Wing commander, said afterward, “We take all reports seriously and investigate them thoroughly. Due to this report, I implemented a lockdown, and our highly trained Security Forces airmen responded to secure our airmen, their families and Air Force resources.”

Random violence on U.S. bases is too common these days. Rhatigan and other commanders on base acted prudently. Every day, our military faces dangers at home and abroad. Here’s a partial list of violence on military bases in this country in recent years:

• Fort Hood, Texas, April 2014, three people killed, 16 wounded.

• Fort Hood, Texas, November 2009, 13 killed, 32 wounded.

• Washington Navy Yard, September 2013, 12 killed.

• Virginia’s Quantico Marine base, March 2013, two marines killed.

• Fort Bragg, N.C., October 1995, one killed, 18 wounded.

• Fairchild Air Force Base, June 1994, Spokane, Wash., four killed, 23 wounded.

Our airmen know all about violence, as they’ve served in Asia and the Middle East for more than a decade. That’s why they’re on guard around the clock, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Thank you, Col. Rhatigan, for making sure everyone is safe at Little Rock Air Force Base.