Turner pushes for more security at Wright-Patt

‘We don’t have any margin of error,’ he says.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said he’s appealed to high-ranking Air Force leaders to improve infrastructure security and add more guards at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base entry gates.

His comments follow a security breach on Nov. 24, when a man who was not authorized on the base drove past a guard at Gate 22B near Interstate 675 without stopping, parked a vehicle in a parking lot, and entered an Air Force Research Laboratory building on foot, according to base officials.

Even before the incident, Turner said he met with Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson, to urge action to improve security measures on the sprawling base.

“We don’t have any margin of error here and we are certainly at a time where our nation is at risk and I think certainly Wright-Patterson Air Force Base deserves the resources to be able to protect the people that are there,” Turner, R-Dayton, said Wednesday.

Wright-Patterson authorities have refused to identify the man who entered the AFRL building, which is home to the Sensors Directorate. After entering the building he was stopped by employees because he didn’t have a workplace badge, officials have said.

The security concern caused the evacuation of employees in buildings 600 and 620 for at least three hours while people inside a nearby child development center were ordered to “shelter in place,” base officials have said. The FBI Terrorism Task Force was at Wright-Patterson in the midst of the breach, and base security forces and police cordoned off roads near the buildings, both on and off base.

The suspect was detained and released without being jailed, according to base spokespersons. Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said the man showed no “ill intent.” An investigation of the incident could stretch into next week, Mayer said Wednesday.

Col. John M. Devillier, installation commander, has said repeatedly since taking the post more than a year ago that base security is a top priority.

Worldwide, authorities have been on heightened alert to the threat of terrorism in recent weeks in the aftermath deadly attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mali and Egypt.

Security upgrade

Wright-Patterson spent $1.3 million this year to upgrade security at Gate 12A, a major entrance off Ohio 444 near AFMC headquarters, but Turner called for additional work throughout the more than 8,100-acre base with 13 gates.

The congressman said he met at the Pentagon with James last month.

“I have specifically asked Secretary James to increase the funding in the area of personnel and infrastructure at our gates to increase the safety and security of the people who work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” said Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I know that Gen. Pawlikowski is working diligently on proposals to implement that, but the Air Force, I think, really needs to step up to the plate and provide the resources.”

AFMC spokesman Ron Fry said Pawlikowski has spoken to Turner about base security several times since the four-star general took over the command in June.

“The security of our people and our installations is a priority for her and her leadership team across AFMC,” Fry said in an email. “However, as a matter of policy we do not discuss details associated with the security of our installations.”

Safety concerns

Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of Wright-Patt employees, said more security at the base gates doesn’t go far enough. He’d like to see internal security measures beefed-up in buildings, too. He has traveled to Wright-Patterson numerous times to meet with Air Force leadership and union members.

“I don’t think any base is completely foolproof and we may have more of these incidents the way things are going,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. “Safety is a big deal to us.”

Wright-Patt is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 26,000 employees.

Mayer declined to comment Wednesday on additional details about the security incident last week, saying authorities are awaiting the conclusion of the investigation into the breach.

Wright-Patt authorities, citing the federal Privacy Act and Air Force regulations, have refused to release the suspect’s identity, only describing him as a Caucasian male who was not authorized to be on base. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the man could face a hearing in federal court, Mayer said.

“Generally speaking, public officials ought to be as transparent as possible accounting for what they do in these incidents,” said Dale Eisman, a spokesman for Common Cause, founded as an independent, non-partisan open government and citizen advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

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