Protecting American interests around the globe, the U.S. Navy faces a myriad of threats. From terrorists and anti-ship rockets, to mines, torpedoes and even ballistic missiles, there are plenty of hazards to worry the brass.
But here at home, one naval installation has discovered a new menace, capable of knocking out key communications in a matter of seconds.
However, this particular hazard doesn't involve suicide bombers, long-range missiles, space weapons, or even explosives. Indeed, this latest threat can be found in most backyards, or any other wooded area. It typically weighs a pound-or less-and belongs to the Sciuridae family.
We're referring to the common tree squirrel, and last Saturday night, one of the furry rodents disrupted phone service at Virginia's Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. Four days later, "land line" phones at the base still aren't working, making communications difficult.
"It's a real pain," said a civilian employee at the base personnel office, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said workers are using e-mail and cell phones as a work-around.
A senior official at the weapons station, who asked not to be identified, said the problem began when a squirrel came in contact with an electrical transformer. The rodent was electrocuted and the transformer exploded, knocking out power for a time, and seriously damaging a key component of the base phone system.
Since then, callers to the installation have heard nothing but busy signals, and weapons station personnel have been unable to reach anyone, on or off the base.
Technicians were still working on the problem Wednesday morning, but there was no indication as to when phone service might be restored. Mark Piggott, a public affairs officer at the base, said software for the phone network had to be re-loaded manually, a process that could take three to six days. That means phone service might not be restored until the weekend.
While the base is not completely without communications, the problem does affect some key nodes, including secure voice phones based on land-line networks.
Classified intranet communications systems, which handle data at the Secret and Top Secret/SCI levels, remained in operation, providing other options for sharing information.
Located along the southern bank of the York River, the sprawling weapons base covers roughly 20 square miles, covering portions of York and James City County. While the installation dates back to the Revolutionary War, the installation now serves as an ammunition loading and storage facility for the ships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Piggott said the phone outage did not affect a recent evaluation by the Navy Inspector General team, which visited the weapons station before the phone problem occurred.
The phone interruption affected the weapon station's "main base" and the smaller Cheatham Annex facility, located near Williamsburg. The secretive Camp Peary complex, which lies adjacent to the weapons station, did not suffer a disruption of phone service. By various accounts, Camp Peary is operated by the CIA, and is reportedly used to train field agents, among other functions.
-- contributed by Beth H. (Duchess ATB and Blueberry ATB, guardian angels to the PBF)