Statement from Captain John J. Brabazon, Commanding Officer of NAS Patuxent River(@ 2:00 pm 2/10/2022)
NAS Patuxent River and Mission Partner Personnel,
During yesterday afternoon’s Solid Curtain 2022 antiterrorism exercise we saw a dramatic traffic backup. The delays were excessive and I own that. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused you or your families. In addition, we are reviewing our response plans to prevent such events with future exercises.
This annual exercise uses realistic scenarios to ensure U.S. Navy Security forces maintain a high level of readiness to respond to changing and dynamic threats. Because we “train like we fight,” FPCON elevations and gate closures during Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain are not simulated.
Our Navy Security forces train and operate 365 days a year. This exercise provides our entire force the opportunity for dedicated training and a renewed focus on our force protection mission. We appreciate your support, especially for our armed sentries who stand the watch 24/7/365.
On February 9, 2022, at approximately 8:30 am, the Pax River Naval Air Station shut down two of the three gates to perform a training exercise during their two-week-long Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain training exercise. Reports from that time indicated an hour to two hours to gain access to the base.
However, employees of various contractors experienced up to a four and a half-hour delay to get off the base yesterday evening. Many people who got off work between three o’clock and four o’clock this evening did not get off the base until eight o’clock. This was due to only one lane being operational out of gate one. Around 7:15 p.m., base personnel decided to finally open the second lane.
This came after the Air Station sent out a media release that they would avoid certain exercises around peak rush hour times and they would try to keep delays as minimal as possible. “We won’t be doing anything around high traffic times; we do our best to minimize disruption, but personnel might experience gate delays or temporary changes in traffic or parking patterns as the different scenarios play out.”
Many of the base’s personnel are frustrated, angry, and do not understand why this particular exercise was conducted during the workweek. This exercise is expected to continue through tomorrow, with only one gate being operational around the clock, and one only open from 6 am-9 am to accommodate the morning rush only. Many understand the importance of these exercises but feel that some exercises are better executed during the weekend when there is significantly less traffic to contend with.
In addition to employees having to wait to get home, there were concerns about the school buses who had to transport children on the base and still get off to drop off other children. One parent reported that it took her child over an hour and a half to get home. Another parent reported that they had to send a friend to school to pick up their child because they could not get off the base in time. There was also an unconfirmed report that at least one person ran out of gas during the traffic backup. Our social media post in regards to the hours-long delay to get off the base received many comments of frustration and times. One person, Christopher Shamblin, reported that he moved only one-quarter of a mile from his job in two and a half hours. Another reported that they left work at 3:30, and did not get home until 7:15, and they only live outside of gate two.
Many employees want to know what happened. Why is it this year the traffic is so bad? One employee, Stephen Harms, who has been employed on the base for 22 years, has commented he has never seen an exercise go this terribly wrong. “Even during 9/11, they restricted access for a while, and then released everyone at the same time. The most people sat in that traffic was half an hour. Somebody did not plan this very well.”
Other employees, who commented on Pax River’s social media page regarding the exercise, said he’s “been here well over a decade and has never seen anything like this. Gone less than a mile in three hours.” Another commenter stated that he has also been here almost 10 years and it has never taken three hours to get off base, even during the most crucial exercises.
Patuxent River Naval Air Station needs to carefully plan and consider all aspects of their training during the annual Citadel Shield- Solid Curtain exercises. Having an exercise that will be conducted over a couple of days should most likely occur when fewer people are on the base to prevent these kinds of frustrations, such as on weekends. There are approximately 25,000 people that work on base, and most are back at work in person. Many do not have the option to work from home. It is difficult to “plan ahead” when trying to leave the base, versus planning ahead for traffic delays getting on the base.