Officials break ground on Rome Lab security project

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A “testament to the journey together to get to this point” was cited by four-star Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., before joining other officials to toss shovelfuls of dirt to signify construction starting on a long-sought perimeter security system at the Air Force’s Rome Lab.

The importance of enhancing security for personnel and technology at the lab, formally called the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate, was emphasized at the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday by Bunch, commander of Air Force Material Command; it includes the overall AFRL plus several other centers and manages nearly $60 billion annually.

During the ceremony held outside next to Rome Lab’s buildings at Griffiss park, Bunch said its work is “so critical to what we do.” The local lab’s contributions are for “today and tomorrow” including both immediate and long-term impacts, he said, adding the Air Force must maintain technological advantages.

Personnel at Rome Lab are “part of the community,” said Bunch, adding “we’re in this together....We have to work together.”

Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said at the ceremony that Bunch’s local appearance indicates “how important this project is” not only for the AFRL but for “our community.” She added local officials are proud of what has been accomplished at Griffiss in redeveloping it as a business and technology park after it ceased being an Air Force base; some military sites such as the lab have remained amid the redevelopment.

Izzo said of the lab “you truly are embedded here...all of your people.” She concluded by presenting Bunch a gift basket of “all things Rome” which included turkey joints, Broasters Coffee, locally made maple syrup and honey, a Rome sticker, plus some other items.

The new perimeter security system, for which a $13.15 million construction contract was awarded last month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Four Tribes Enterprises LLC of Gaithersburg, Md., will include fencing, a visitor control center and entry-control point among its features.

The security system will encompass Rome Lab as well as the neighboring Rome Defense Financing and Accounting Service (DFAS). The lab has about 816 civilian and military employees plus about 403 on-site contractors, while Rome DFAS has about 1,000 employees.

The wrought-iron fencing will be eight feet high and cover 9,000 linear feet overall, according to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio which is headquarters for the overall AFRL as well as Air Force Materiel Command. Construction by Four Tribes Enterprises is to begin within a few days, said Wright-Patterson.

The completion date is by fall 2021, Lt. Col. Richard Gussenhoven of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said during the ceremony, which he called “a significant milestone for the project.” He added he hopes to “back here for a ribbon-cutting ceremony” to celebrate its success.

Funding for the project was approved in the fiscal 2019 defense appropriations bill. The security enhancements had been under discussion well before that.

“Today’s ceremony culminates the efforts of many past commanders and directors who acknowledged the need to provide security for our most treasured asset — our people,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Kramer, deputy commander for Detachment 4 at the lab; a detachment commander performs military command functions.

Kramer noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “America has looked at security and protection from a different view.” Steps taken afterward at Rome Lab including a new security entrance off roadways were efficient but not enough, he said. Kramer added “the lab and DFAS will be enclosed in a state-of-the-art security complex that will be visibly noticeable and yet aesthetically pleasing to all who drive through the technology park.”

U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-22, Utica, who was among congressional members to announce the project contract award last month, said in a statement Wednesday, “as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will always fight to keep the mission at Rome Lab safe and secure. This project, and the mission at large in Rome, is critical not just to our national security but also our local economy. The groundbreaking on this long-awaited project will move the ball forward and help make sure the workers and defense assets at Rome Lab are safe.”

Rome Lab acting Director Dr. Michael Hayduk called the groundbreaking a “memorable event,” citing the effort to protect personnel and a “high-tech ecosystem.” He noted the lab’s continuing contributions to national security and the importance of protecting “game-changing work” done there.

The new security system will deter unwanted persons and enhance the overall efficiency of screening vehicles and visitors, Gussenhoven explained.

Bunch, who became commander of Air Force Materiel Command last May, said “the first time I was here” at the lab was in 2004 during early stages of security enhancements; Bunch at that time held an AFRL position at an Air Force base in Florida. Wednesday was “the first opportunity I’ve had to come back,” he added, and “now I get to be here for...groundbreaking....”

Rome Lab “leads the Air Force and nation in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) and cyber science, technology, research, and development,” Wright-Patterson has said. Total funding received by the lab for fiscal 2019 was over $1.6 billion. Among several categories providing funding are the military services plus affiliated defense agencies.

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