The announcement brought much-needed relief to a furloughed guard force that at times lacked the manpower needed to clear the 40,000 vehicles that estimates show enter the Army post daily.
The change in gates hours – the third in 10 days – resulted from a policy clarification the Department of the Army issued last week, allowing Fort Gordon to use military personnel for gate access control, spokesman J.C. Mathews said.
Previously, the Defense Department prohibited local commanders from diverting military personnel away from normal duties to fill in for furloughed guards and make up the lost overtime hours required to operate the gates on their normal schedules.
The start of an 11-day civilian furlough on July 8, however, left Fort Gordon’s five gates shorthanded, backed-up traffic for miles, and left local officials scrambling to create a long-term plan to better handle the daily commute.
On Wednesday, Mathews said help is on the way.
“About 20 to 25 service members from various units on post will augment the guard force and the military police to operate the gates,” Mathews said in a news release. “These soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines underwent training prior to the furlough to ensure that appropriate security procedures continued to be followed for installation access.”
Thursday’s return to order will cap a hectic 10 days at Fort Gordon.
Post officials had to convene emergency meetings July 8 to devise a plan to ease congested traffic at security gates, which – because of civilian furloughs – lacked the guards needed to handle lines of commuters that stretched more than three miles at times.
When news broke in May that the Defense Department planned to furlough civilian employees 11 days to make up $37 billion in cuts from sequestration, Mathews said, Fort Gordon began to train military personnel to fill in for the 35 security guards subject to unpaid leave.
The plan was overruled, though, and at the start of furloughs July 8, Fort Gordon closed all gates except 1 and 5. As a result, cars and commercial trucks extended from Gate 1, the primary entrance, past Wrightsboro Road near Interstate 20, at the height of the problem.
The gridlock left some people reporting to work two hours late and officials scrambling to create a long-term plan.
Fort Gordon redistributed some guards and military policemen to reopen Gate 2 – a commercial entrance that could help control tractor-trailer deliveries – during morning and afternoon commuting hours.
Col. Robert Barker, Fort Gordon’s garrison commander, thanked area motorists.
“We appreciate the patience of our Fort Gordon community as we work through the issues resulting from the furlough of our civilian employees,” Barker said. “We’re also grateful for the support of our Central Savannah River Area neighbors; we know our gate issues affected them as well. As in this change at the gates, we’ll keep looking for ways to maintain service to our community while the furlough continues.”