Story and photos by Rick Emert
They are the first line of defense for the installation.
And, they won’t laugh at your driver’s license photo.
Those who work and live on the Mountain Post encounter them at least once a day, but most people don’t know what the installation’s gate guards encounter day in and day out.
Things such as rudeness because of vehicle inspections to people trying to bring weapons or drugs onto the installation can happen more often than people might think.
Despite increased security since 9/11, some people show annoyance and even rudeness when stopped at the gate for a vehicle search, said Sidney Thomas, a gate guard with Chenega Security and Protection Services, LLC, which makes up the Army Protective Guard Force at Fort Carson.
“They want us to hurry, which means not doing our job the right way,” Thomas said.
“These gates do get busy, so they have already been waiting in line,” said gate guard John Killian. “If we have any hang-ups … it can take even longer. By the time they get up here, sometimes they are already upset. We try to be polite to them.”
Politeness and good communication go a long way toward alleviating the inconvenience of a vehicle inspection, said gate guard Susanne Reinwald.
“This job is mainly interpersonal communication skills,” she said. “If you have them, and you are good at them, you communicate well with the clients – everyone who comes through here is a client to us. Proper communication will solve most of the problems. The majority of people are very understanding (about having their vehicle searched.)”
Not only are random vehicle searches necessary, but the guards also must keep an eye out for activity outside the installation’s gates.
“Occasionally a vehicle will be sitting outside (the gate) for a long time,” Reinwald said. “You can tell they are watching the gate procedures. Is that necessarily something we should be concerned with? In this particular environment, yes, all the time. You never know. Is it someone that’s staking out the territory, checking the procedures of the officer or finding out the weak spots? You can’t tell.”
The guards are limited in how involved they can become, she said.
“We’re not law enforcement,” Reinwald said. “We have to take anything that is suspicious activity and alert the authorities who are trained in that. They’ll make the call if it is something of importance or not.”
“The security officers’ authority and jurisdiction comes from the commanding general and garrison commander of Fort Carson and is very similar to the Department of the Army police,” said David Countryman, chief of guards. “The other great thing about our force is that most of the officers working the gates are prior service of some kind or another, some retirees and some who served one or two tours of duty and (got out of the Army).”
A significant threat may come from people authorized to enter the installation who try to bring in drugs or even weapons.
“At night it’s a totally different gate,” Thomas said. “You never know what’s going to happen. At night you get all the people with weapons and drugs, stuff like that. It’s a little different. I worked nights for three-and-a-half years; you see drugs, see people come up with weapons.”
Even so, the instances of drugs or illegal weapons are rare, Reinwald said.
“If we find something that looks a little out of the ordinary and ask the question, 99 percent of the time it’s nothing,” she said. “Of course, there is the 1 percent where we call the law enforcement officials. Normally it is either drugs or other things that are not supposed to come on installations. We haven’t had any major issues.”
The guards also frequently see drivers they suspect of driving under the influence of alcohol.
“If the individual just looks drunk, we can’t go by that,” Reinwald said.
But the security officers are trained to be aware of possible indicators of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and inability to follow instructions, Countryman said.
While the guards may see some illegal activity, they most often see minor problems involving things like expired identification cards or insurance, Thomas said.
“We see a lot of people trying to get on Fort Carson with expired insurance cards,” he said. “When you ask them about it, they say: ‘They let me on yesterday.’ Well, you’re not getting on today. Basically, (things that prevent people from getting on post) are expired insurance and registration most of the time.”
Most of the drivers entering the installation have their identification and vehicle documents in order, which can lead to some monotonous eight-hour shifts for the guards. They combat complacency by chatting with drivers coming through the gate and pass lulls in traffic by chatting with each other, Thomas said.
Since they also serve as information specialists for drivers new to Fort Carson, they ask that other drivers be patient as they wait in line to enter the installation.
“If there is only one thing I can say to people it would be: ‘Be patient.’ If you are up here, we want to afford you the same time we afforded that other person,” Thomas said. “If that person is just getting here, and they don’t know anything about the post, we have to tell them exactly where to go. If you were that person, we would give you the same courtesy, so don’t get behind him and start blowing your horn.”
While they are often smiling and friendly to those entering Fort Carson, they also must remain vigilant, even if it slows traffic at the gate, Killian said.
“If there was something that we missed (by rushing an inspection) and something bad happens on post, it not only affects people on post, but it also reflects upon (the job we did inspecting),” he said. “I would never want to have to live with that. We have to be sure nothing gets by us.”