Military installation employees find gridlock upon returning to work

Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma military installation employees who were told to return to work spent more time stuck in traffic than on the job.

``It's frustrating,'' said Debbie Kirkpatrick, a production chief for KC-135 aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base. ``I want to be in there. I want to help. At least I can listen to the news.''

Kirkpatrick waited in a line outside the Midwest City base for more than six hours Wednesday, as identification checks of those who tried to enter continued through the morning.

Most military installations in the country tightened security measures after Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington.

In Lawton, the wait was up to three hours at Fort Sill, where traffic forced two elementary schools to close, officials said. The delay was just as long at Altus Air Force Base, but at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, employees waited about 30 minutes, a spokesman said.

``Hey, I would rather see the waits like that than to have someone get on the base who wasn't supposed to be there,'' Altus spokeswoman Linda Stokes said.

Increased security meant guards were checking all vehicles, said Tinker spokeswoman Gail Kulhavy, who made it to her post in three hours.

There are 24,000 civilian and military workers at Tinker, making it quite a task for guards.

Kulhavy said things were business as usual at the base.

Tinker officials late Wednesday reduced the level of security, which should lessen the wait for employees. They still have to present positive identification, however, and some delays are expected, they said.

At the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, officials downgraded their D-level security alert to C-level and encouraged employees to carpool. Officials said the 150 employees considered essential reported to work Wednesday. The plant employs 922.

Essential employees reported to work at Altus and Vance on Wednesday also, but officials said everyone is expected back on Thursday.

One man wearing camouflage fatigues said the crawl toward the Tinker gate was way longer than he imagined.

``It's a little bit excessive,'' said the AWACs worker, who declined to give his name. ``Maybe they could have come out and said only people who are mission-essential should come in to work.''

Tinker respository worker Pam Green brought reading material and snacks to pass the time. After a while, she wished she had brought a restroom.