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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Exactly one year before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Navy’s largest overseas base finished installing anti-terrorism devices at one of its two entrances and began work to do the same at the base’s main gate.

The project — to place hydraulic pop-up barriers just inside the Womble and Carney gates to trap any vehicle trying to evade gate checks — cost the Navy almost $500,000.

But four years — and thousands of deaths — into the war on terrorism, those same barriers have been found wanting. “They’re a great idea. They’re not ideally placed,” said Capt. King Dietrich, base commander.

The barriers are too close to the gate, according to a security review, preventing adequate response time for sailors on guard duty to flip the switch and actually have the barriers pop up before infiltrators blast past them and into the base.

That’s one of the things being fixed in a new, approximately $2 million project currently under way to improve security at both gates. Among other security upgrades are cameras installed in the ground to look for bombs underneath vehicles — which will preclude sailors having to do the checks with mirrors — and more secure guard shacks.

Although improved security is the motivating factor behind the work, Dietrich said, its benefits will include better traffic flow and an enhancement of the way the base, not known for its aesthetics, looks. “It’ll be one thing on the base that’s not beige,” Dietrich said.

In fact, cherry trees lining a walkway will be pink in spring, green in summer. But the most spectacular feature will be a wall with water cascading over it — all courtesy of Obayashi Corp., which was awarded the contract to design and build the new gates last September. “It’ll be very attractive,” Dietrich said.

Obayashi, one of Japan’s top four general contractors, presented the winning concept with a presentation that talked about not only improving guard shacks, but also bringing together the idea of mountains and ocean in the new gate design.

That’s a change from the sorts of things base public works generally build. “Public works is good at functional,” Dietrich said.

Although no figures were available on what sort of traffic flow improvement was expected from the new design — which is scheduled to be completed by January but already has been delayed by the engineering demands of the cascading water wall — Dietrich said he expected a “significant” improvement. The improvement will be primarily at the Carney, or main, gate, because of a larger “stacking” area to get cars off Route 16. Also, an overhead walkway eventually will get pedestrians off the street and out of the way of turning cars. The overpass is being paid for by the Japanese government.

Yokosuka’s mayor “loves this project,” Dietrich said.

About two months ago, Japanese police arrested more than 10 residents police said may have ties to terrorism, including one man who had a cell phone business office across the street from the main gate.

Dietrich said the base was in “reasonable shape” in guarding itself against terror operations. But, he said, “I’ll feel more comfortable when this project is completed.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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