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Temporary tower puzzles A.P. Hill neighbors

When a portable guard tower appeared recently outside the Villeboro gate at Fort A.P. Hill, some neighbors were a little concerned.

“We could understand it if it was erected inside the fence area near the existing guard shack,” William Whiteside, who lives near the gate off State Route 2 in Caroline County, wrote in an email to The Free Lance–Star. “But why is it outside on the street corner?”

He contacted the newspaper for some answers because the Army keeps security measures close to the vest. The installation spans 76,000 acres in Caroline and Essex counties.

In an interview this week, Whiteside said neighbors reported seeing armed men in the tower at one point, and were concerned in the wake of recent gun violence across the country.

So the former law enforcement officer stopped by the guard tower one evening for a close-up look and a photo. While he was there, “a couple of guys in unmarked cars questioned me and wanted to see my ID,” he said.

A similar tower was placed outside the gate two years ago, Whiteside said. He called the county sheriff’s office then and was told that it was part of a training exercise and would be gone in a week or two.

Whiteside said that, coinciding with the appearance of the latest tower, there has been a marked increase in aircraft activity and noise around the base.

“It’s very unusual to have so much air traffic. We are used to a few choppers flying in, especially in the summer months,” said Whiteside, who’s lived near the Army fort for almost 13 years.

“However, [these] are larger, fixed wing aircraft that shake the houses as they fly over.”

Base spokesman Michael Meisberger wrote in an email this week that the tower is part of ongoing security efforts.

“The Army and A.P. Hill are serious about ensuring the safety and security of the installation and our personnel,” he wrote.

“Our installation police department routinely implements random force protection measures at entry and inspection points along our perimeter, in buildings, and more.”

He added, “We do not discuss specific measures, and a number of measures and procedures that may be in place on any given day, to ensure safety and security.”

As for the aircraft, “There is nothing unique about aviation training taking place on the installation this week,” Meisberger wrote.

He said that when there is the potential for added aircraft noise, advisories are issued through the Caroline Alert system and social media.

Fort A.P. Hill Facebook page,

Caroline Alert,

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431