YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The base entry south of the runway here is more stalwart these days, with a new gate and guard shack.

But just a year since the South Gate received a face lift, the guard shack sits empty, and the gate is locked.

Base officials said last week that a decision was made in 2002 to close the gate to routine traffic, primarily due to force protection.

“We’ll still use the gate during contingencies and construction” projects, said Air Force Master Sgt. Alain Clifford, the noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of police services for the 374th Security Forces Squadron.

One guard used to man the gate, which once was open to base residents and employees during peak a.m. and p.m. usage, when people came back and forth from home or work off-base, Clifford said. That privilege ended during Yokota’s $66 million runway reconstruction project, when the gate was open to construction trucks only. It’s been closed to regular traffic ever since.

Neither security forces nor 374th Civil Engineer Squadron officials could provide cost figures for the South Gate improvements. But, said Clifford, “I don’t think at the time we had any thoughts on closing it during the renovations. It was a pretty old gate.”

A decision was made at some point, Clifford said, to keep the gate closed “to have fewer access points to the base.” The entryway is vulnerable — the area outside the gate is isolated and poorly lit, he said. “It’s a pretty dark road out there.”

Added Yokota civilian guard Akihiro Urano, “All the gate guards say that’s a dangerous gate,” especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, because it’s a straight shot from the South Gate to the runway, with only a field as a buffer.

The gate likely will get some use, however, in the near future, when Yokota starts a $1.7 million security upgrade for its six gates — including the South Gate. If there’s a need, regular traffic may be rerouted through the south gate when another gate is shuttered for renovations, Clifford said. Gate guards will keep sentry; barriers will go up to enhance force protection in the area.

Security improvements include new glass in the guard shacks, Clifford said. He would not elaborate, citing force protection. The project is set to start in October.

Clifford said security forces did not track how many cars used the South Gate when it was open to regular traffic. “We did not see a reason to keep a count,” he said.

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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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