Gate guards at Misawa Air Base, Japan, are now hand-inspecting identification cards of all drivers and pedestrians entering the base, 24 hours a day.

Drivers must pull out their ID card and hand it to the guard; passengers need only show their identification. Previously, gate guards visually inspected ID cards, with hands-on inspections conducted randomly or if a card looked suspicious, base security officials said.

The Air Force in February 2004 directed all bases to check “100 percent ID of all drivers and pedestrians,” said Maj. Joe Milner, 35th Security Forces Squadron commander. “We have implemented that to different degrees ever since then. We have gone to 100 percent (hands-on) ID checks as a random measure before, but it was highlighted recently to us that we have to make it 100 percent all of the time.”

During the Unit Compliance Inspection that ended March 4, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Inspector General team was able to drive on base with a counterfeit ID, Milner said.

“We took a hit for it during the UCI; that was a finding,” he said.

But the security forces commander stressed that base officials don’t believe base security was lax. “We didn’t agree with” the finding, he said, noting the inspector was driving an IG-marked car and as such, was treated as a distinguished visitor and was not questioned.

Security forces ran their own surprise test by having some first-term airmen swap their IDs and try to gain access to base. “They got nailed every time,” Milner said. “That proved to us our security was strong in catching people.”

Milner said another reason for the 100 percent ID inspection is counterfeit Defense Department IDs have been showing up recently in the United States; thorough examination of IDs is the standard at stateside military bases.

The Misawa gate ID policy change went into effect Monday and immediately caused a huge traffic snarl during the morning commute. During the peak traffic hours of 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. Monday, it took about 1½ to two hours to get onto base, “depending on where you were at,” Milner said. Cars were slowed because many drivers weren’t prepared to pull out their ID cards and hand them to the guards, Milner said. By Tuesday, the wait was down to about 20 minutes, officials said, and Wednesday, a motorist entering the main gate around 8 a.m. reported no delays.

Milner said Japan Air Self-Defense Force troops soon will augment U.S. security forces at the gates to help check IDs faster. For the first time, JASDF 3rd Air Wing and security forces members conducted training in various vehicle search operation procedures at Misawa this week.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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