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Florida bases heighten alert; entry restricted, CentCom mum

©Associated Press


TAMPA -- Military bases around Florida went on heightened alert today, restricting entry as armed security guards searched cars and checked identification before letting even their own personnel on base.

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa is home to U.S. Central Command -- the nerve center for America's military operations in the troubled Mideast.

Military planners at MacDill track operations half way around the world on a giant board and stay connected with field operations through computers and secure-line phones.

But on Tuesday, no one at CentCom was talking. A command spokesman said no comments or releases were expected and no news conference was scheduled.

The command, a joint operation of all services, can quickly deploy troops from anywhere in the nation to 25 countries from the Red Sea to Central Asia, including areas that control 70 percent of the world's oil reserves.

Tampa Police Department officers in eight patrol cars were outside MacDill, helping guard the entrance. Cars backed up for nearly a mile as military guards in camouflage uniforms checked drivers and passengers before letting them on base.

Spokesmen at MacDill said the base was in "a state of increased security vigilance," in response to a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Zigzag barricades were stationed inside the entrance.

Outside the base, Hillsborough County marine units patrolled the perimeter which overlooks Tampa Bay.

All personnel not assigned to MacDill or not living on base were told to leave. Only those holding Department of Defense identification were permitted on base.

In Miami, carloads of civilians streamed out of the gate of the U.S. Southern Command, the joint command for all U.S. military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

At Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Blue Angels were 10 minutes into a practice flight over their headquarters base when they were ordered to land, said base spokesman Ron Westlake.

"There is no flying, no training flights," Westlake said.

The air station also barred public access to anyone without specific business on base, closing off access to the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Panhandle's top tourist attraction, and Fort Barrancas, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Flying also was canceled at other military installations including Eglin Air Force Base, home to an F-15 Eagle fighter wing and the service's main weapons testing center.

Eglin spokeswoman Lois Walsh said she could not discuss whether any fighters were on alert.

"We will do what needs to be done," she said.

Access to the base, normally limited only to those who have business there, wasn't changed but security was increased, Walsh said.

Hurlburt Field, headquarters for the Air Force Special Operations Command, adjacent to Eglin was at its highest state of alert, said base spokeswoman Lt. Rosemary Heiss.

The Florida National Guard opened its emergency operations center in St. Augustine, but no call-up was ordered.

At the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, reporters' calls were referred to the Pentagon.

A spokesman said personal and vehicle identification were required to get on base at the Naval Station Mayport and at a submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga.

Several Mayport Naval Station ships, including the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, left Tuesday for what the Navy called routine maneuvers.

The Navy refused comment on which ships departed, where they were headed, or how long they would be at sea.

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