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Military / Terrorist Attacks

Navy carriers sent to patrol off New York, D.C.
By JACK DORSEY, The Virginian-Pilot
© September 12, 2001

Naval vessels steam out of the Hampton Roads area, through the Hampton Roads channel and past the Bridge tunnel Tuesday. Photo by Martin Smith-Rodden / The Virginian-Pilot.

NORFOLK -- With two aircraft carriers en route and a third preparing to leave Wednesday, the Navy's Atlantic Fleet has pressed all of its available East Coast carriers into service to patrol the waters and air space off New York and Washington.

The emergency deployments are unprecedented, even following the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war in 1990.


  • Video: Norfolk-based ships continue to deploy

  • Background coverage: America under Attack special section

  • ``We have been attacked like we haven't been since Pearl Harbor,'' Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet, said Tuesday afternoon as he placed his entire 188-ship fleet on alert.

    Asked if the country was close to going to war, Natter said: ``That is not my decision to make. I would anticipate a response.''

    Former 2nd Congressional District Rep. Owen B. Pickett, who served on the Armed Forces Committee, said that the U.S. must react once it determined who is responsible.

    ``I think the response should be proportionate to the damage that was inflicted here,'' Pickett said. ``It should be of sufficient magnitude and severity to make it clear that this nation will never, ever tolerate this kind of interference in our internal affairs.''

    Pickett said he doubted that military installations around Hampton Roads would be under immediate threat of terrorist attack, saying the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seemed aimed at the country's civilian population to ``inflict terror in the minds of our people.''

    Still, area military installations were placed at Force Protection Condition Delta, the military's highest security level. It is one step higher than the security imposed here after the attack on the destroyer Cole last October in Yemen.

    Military security guards were stopping and checking all vehicles Tuesday as they entered the Norfolk Naval Station. Photo by Mark Mitchell / The Virginian-Pilot.

    The threat condition applies to either ``the immediate area where a terrorist attack has occurred,'' or ``when intelligence indicates a terrorist attack against a specific location is likely,'' according to the Pentagon.

    On Hampton Boulevard outside the Norfolk Naval Station's main gates at noon, there was a long line of people in cars, radios on, talking on cell phones, awaiting clearance to the base. At the gates, guards carrying rifles were on duty with bomb-sniffing dogs. Only those with important business on the base -- and proper identification -- were allowed to enter.

    At Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, airmen in camouflage uniforms lifted white, plastic barricades off trucks and placed the waist-high blocks across entry and exit lanes.

    A Navy Petty Officer, caught up in the security net that blocked nearly all access to the Norfolk Naval Station Tuesday afternoon, said he was ready to go to war.

    ``Right now, they're hurting civilians,'' he said, declining as most sailors did in the aftermath of the attacks, to give his name, ``at least if we put a stop to it, our families would be safe.''

    The Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Command ordered all of its forces to an increased threat level, said Lt. Cmdr. Brenden McPherson, a spokesman for the command.

    The carrier John F. Kennedy, based in Mayport, Fla., was already at sea Tuesday morning when the terrorist attacks occurred. With nearly a full air wing of 75 fighter, attack and reconnaissance planes aboard, it steamed immediately toward the scene, officials said.

    A second carrier, the George Washington, based in Norfolk, also was at sea off the Virginia coast at the time. It too headed to New York waters, but with a limited number of aircraft aboard. Additional crew members and aircraft were expected to join it Wednesday.

    The third carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, which was scheduled to leave on an overseas deployment next Wednesday, recalled its 2,500-member crew on Tuesday and was planning to get underway possibly Wednesday.

    The carriers and their aircraft, together with accompanying surface ships using far-reaching radar, can provide an additional level of security along the East Coast, especially against air attacks, according to officials.

    The hospital ship Comfort, based in Baltimore, was expected to get underway Wednesday after loading more than 800 medical personnel from Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The Comfort is a 500-bed hospital and could be used to augment civilian hospitals in the area.

    Additional ships, including large helicopter and troop carriers, which have medical facilities aboard, also are expected to be sent to similar areas Wednesday to help with security or medical relief. Those ships could be brought inside New York's harbor to help civilian rescue authorities.

    Already at sea and en route, in addition to the ``GW'' and Kennedy, Tuesday night were the guided missile cruisers Leyete Gulf, Monterey, Hue City, Vicksburg and Vella Gulf; the guided missile destroyers Ramage and Ross; and the supply ship Detroit.

    The Virginia National Guard ordered 300 members to state active duty, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Chester C . Carter III. They include military police, engineers and medical specialist.

    They primarily are on standby, Carter said. None has been called into federal status.

    Adm. Natter said he had been in contact with New York's deputy mayor throughout the morning. He also said he had been talking with the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Vern Clark, whose office is in the section of the Pentagon that was damaged when a hijacked airliner hit the building. Natter said that Clark was in an alternate location that he declined to identify.

    Although Natter declined to talk about the Navy's security precautions, he asked the public to have patience with any inconvenience they might cause.

    He also said that if anyone sees suspicious activity, they should notify local authorities.

    Navy ships are more secure at sea than at piers -- even with the more aggressive defensive tactics, waterfront barriers and armed patrols put in place after the destroyer Cole attack. Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 others injured when two suicide bombers drove their bomb-laden boat into the Cole, which was taking on fuel in the southern Arabian port of Aden, Yemen.

    Staff writers Melissa Wood and Erica Reif contributed to this report. Reach Jack Dorsey at jdorsey@pilotonline.com or 446-2284.


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