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New $3 million vehicle processing center increases base security

by Senior Airman Juanika Glover
Thunderbolt staff writer

More than three construction organizations have pulled together during the past 18 months to create a $3 million search facility designed specifically to inspect large vehicles before allowing them access to the base.

The new entry point was created as a more efficient time-saving method to ensure large vehicles are safe enough for base entrance.

"The Port Tampa Gate search facility is a large-vehicle only inspection station for delivery vehicles, RVs, dump trucks, tow trucks and moving vans," said Master Sgt. John Ward, noncommissioned officer of gate operations.

He said the center was built to give the 6th Security Forces Squadron entry control Airmen an easier way to see under the vehicles, ensuring there are no explosive devices or other prohibited devices on or in the vehicles.

"It would be much better to take care of problems here rather than on the main part of base where the population is much larger," said Master Sgt. Keith Stephens, assistant NCOIC of gate operations. "The Port Tampa Gate search facility serves as the first line of defense against anything dangerous."

Sergeant Stephens and Tech. Sgt. Ben Skumautz were assigned to MacDill from the Air Force Reserve's 920th Rescue Group at Patrick Air Force Base to assist with the project.

Some of the other organizations involved in the project include the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, 6th SFS, the Army Corps of Engineers and J. Kokalakis Construction contractors.

The Port Tampa Gate search facility is made up of a gate shack, a large vehicle inspection awning and a support facility for the inspectors. The support facility has built in desks for Airmen on duty, a waiting area, two bathrooms and a break room for security forces members and their K-9 military working dog friends.

Sergeant Ward said there were many benefits to having the new center.

"Rather than having just one lane for access there are now two and each vehicle will be prescreened before going on to get inspected," he said. "This is a highly systematic process and it's more conducive to better security.

The new hours for the Port Tampa Gate search facility, former Tanker Gate, will be Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 5:30 to 10 a.m. The center will be closed on Sundays.

"Since the Port Tampa Gate search facility is closed on Sundays, any commercial or large vehicles needing access that day must use the bypass lane at the Dale Mabry Gate," Sergeant Ward added.

He said vehicle operators who may be unsure if their vehicle qualifies to go through the Port Tampa Gate search facility, should go if their vehicle is of van size or larger or is enclosed enough to where nothing can be seen inside.

Sergeant Ward said one of the biggest changes that could affect Team MacDill is once the Port Tampa Gate search facility opens officially Monday, the base populace will not be able to exit that gate and pedestrians and bicyclists will not be able to enter the gate.

"Our unit is really excited about the opening because our operations will be simplified and we will have a better chance of catching something in or on a vehicle than with our old inspections center," Sergeant Ward said.

"I'm also happy that we were given the opportunity to come in and seamlessly help the active duty force to complete their mission," Sergeant Stephens added.

The Port Tampa Gate search facility opening will bring many changes to the base and although it will no longer be an exit area for the base populace, the benefits of having the new inspection station, make the new rules of operation worth while.

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