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NAPLES, Italy — When Navy officials told Capt. Floyd Hehe his security force had to shrink by half, the commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Naples balked, cried foul and appealed for another manning study.

The result of the do-over: a boost in the number of military police billets for the base.

In less than two years, the security department at Naples shrank, through attrition, from 374 sailors in fiscal 2004 to nearly 188 today.

After Hehe told his bosses 188 was too few, a team re-evaluated the base’s security and force protection needs, and concluded that the right number of master-at-arms actually should be 275.

“I feel justified,” Hehe said in a recent interview. “It wasn’t an over-joyous reaction because, although somebody waved their hands and said ‘275,’ it doesn’t equate to people showing up as gains yet in our system. That’s when I’ll be happy.”

The second survey cited more sailors required to stand gate guard duty, security requirements at the recreational Carney Park site, and the needs of an off-base military leased housing complex, said Tony Reid, the antiterrorism/force protection program director for Naval Force Europe.

Security department leaders at Naples worked to ensure that protection of the base had not been hindered by the downsizing, Hehe said. Instead, what suffered are community policing programs, such as walking through the Navy Exchange scanning for shoplifters. And the drawdown strained security personnel.

“Now, they are getting much less time on breaks than they have in the past,” Hehe said. “Rather than letting them go to a break room and relax [after standing guard duty], we’re putting them in a car and making them drive around the perimeter of the road, or making them do things more visibly to deter folks from speeding or talking on cell phones.”

The eventual boost in bodies — no timeline has been given — will ease the strain on the current force, as well as let Hehe develop new programs such as bicycle patrols at the support site base in Gricignano, he said.

Despite the increase in the number of allowable masters-at-arms, better known as MAs, the base still aims to eventually replace military police with nonmilitary personnel and improved technology, thus letting the MAs support the war on terror, Reid said.

In fact, that’s a goal for all of the Navy bases throughout Europe, Reid said.

The Pentagon’s call on the Navy to provide more ground forces to ease the strain of combat operations on the Army and Marine Corps units has sapped Navy security departments, especially MAs.

Experts here are studying personnel options for security departments at bases throughout Europe, such as hiring U.S. or local national civilians, or contracting out security work, Reid said.

“As part of the labor transformation study, if we can save a few MA billets and have someone else do the job, that frees them up to support [combat] missions elsewhere,” Reid said.

And researchers are finding other technology that can do people’s jobs or improve on what they do, such as automated turnstiles, identification card scanners, or barriers that would require fewer people to guard gates, Reid said.

Many of the alternatives are at least a decade out, Reid said, and require dollars upfront at a time when the military is clamoring for cost-saving measures and slashing non-wartime budgets to pay for the war against terrorism.

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