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    MacDill on heightened security

    [Times photos: Thomas M. Goethe]
    MacDill security police check cars before allowing them onto the base Tuesday after the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

    By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 12, 2001


    TAMPA -- Armed guards and Tampa police officers stood watch Tuesday at the entrance to MacDill Air Force Base, which was virtually shut down to civilian traffic.

    Two lines of cars stretched more than a half-mile south of the guard station as security officers scrutinized every motorist driving up to the gates. Most were turned away.

    photo
    Air Force Brig. Gen. William Hodges, center, talks with Tampa police officers Curtis Bascom, left, and Robert Sinclair.
    Throughout the day, only those bearing Department of Defense identification cards were admitted, but not before their vehicles were inspected.

    Military personnel in battle dress looked inside gas tanks and underneath hoods and rifled through car trunks for any suspicious objects.

    An Air Force general was driven up to the gates about 2:30 p.m. He hopped out of his vehicle and walked over to Tampa police Cpl. Robert Sinclair, who was assigned to assist the military, and thanked him for his help.

    "We're here, just doing our jobs, trying to help in any way we can," Sinclair said later.

    MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military forces in the Middle East, and U.S. Special Operations Command, which controls the military's commando forces.

    According to base employees, all personnel not assigned to or residing on the base were instructed about 9 a.m. to leave.

    Those playing a vital role in base operations were ordered to stay. Among them was Gemma Taitt, a civilian employee who works in logistics and maps.

    She provides important information about locations all over the world, said her husband, Carver Taitt.

    He sat on a rock in the shade of a small tree outside the base property Tuesday, waiting for his wife. A refueling jet flew overhead.

    "I'm worried," Carver Taitt said, looking toward the guards. "If something happens in MacDill, not one of those guys can stop me from getting to my wife."

    Taitt said his wife also had to stay at MacDill during the conflict in the Persian Gulf. She had to spend the night on base, he said.

    Gemma Taitt told her husband that personnel on base were watching television and supporting each other through the tragedy.

    Those leaving the base Tuesday drove past a construction site where work crews had planted an American flag on a small hill.

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