- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

The U.S. Coast Guard has increased its patrols on the Potomac River around downtown Washington in response to the federal government's heightened security alert status.
The USCG Chock, a 65-foot harbor tug with a seven-man crew that also serves as an icebreaking vessel, patrolled the river yesterday on the lookout for threats to the city's safety. It was the Portsmouth, Va.-based ship's fifth day of guarding the District's waterways.
"This boat is here as an added presence, patrolling, keeping an eye open for suspicious activity," Coast Guard Lt. Ron Mench said.
In addition to the Chock, the Coast Guard is deploying two quick and agile 25-foot Homeland Security Response boats, as well as helicopters that concentrate on monitoring river traffic around the District.
One of the Chock's crew's main responsiblities is to board and check identification on commercial and private vessels that sail the river. Traffic has been slow, said William Plunk, the cutter's chief petty officer.
This past week, the Chock stopped a tugboat pulling gravel barges and a private vessel on which one person was taking pictures of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The picture-taker, a college student, was "very apologetic for taking pictures," Chief Plunk said.
Photographing airports or military bases is "not recommended," he added.
"It will attract our attention," the chief said. "We all have a heightened sense of alert with everything that's going on."
The federal Office of Homeland Security raised the national alert level from Code Yellow (elevated risk) to Code Orange (high risk) on Feb. 7, indicating an increased likelihood of a terrorist attack.
On board the Chock, crew members have been away from their families for more than a week.
"We're hearing about how everybody's preparing for things, and we're thinking about our families back home," said Executive Petty Officer Mark Adams, of Sanford, N.C. "It's a little unnerving."
A Coast Guard spokeswoman would not comment on whether the crew has equipment for a chemical or biological attack, but crew members said that if an attack were to occur, their training and instincts would take over.
"The talk of what could happen, there might be some fear involved, but once it happened, the adrenaline would come and you'd do your job," said Petty Officer Adams.
"I think afterward might be worse than during."

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