BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Air National Guard base is on heightened alert as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches.
The state’s force-protection level was increased Wednesday after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta authorized raising the level for military installations nationwide.
Maine military leaders have known for weeks that the state’s security threat level would be raised because of the 9/11 anniversary, Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said last week.
“There are people out there plotting against us,” he said, adding that such anniversaries are dates that warrant extra precautions.
Materials seized in the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May indicated that plans were under way for a possible attack around the anniversary. U.S. counterterrorism officials are chasing a credible but unconfirmed tip that al-Qaida has plans to set off a car bomb in New York City or Washington around Sept. 11, with bridges or tunnels as potential targets, The Associated Press reported.
A sign now posted outside the entrance gate of the 101st Air Refueling Wing base — the only active military base in Maine — reads PFCON Bravo, which stands for Force Protection Conditions Bravo.
There are five force protection conditions. Bravo is the middle level and “applies when an increased or more predictable threat exists,” the Defense Department website states.
“We’ve basically been operating at that level for quiet a while” unofficially, Lt. Col. Debbie Kelley, spokeswoman for the 101st, said Friday.
The MAINEiacs have been busy this week conducting missions unrelated to the 9/11 anniversary, she said. “These are routine deployments.”
A large contingent of Maine Guardsmen are in Vermont assisting with cleanup from Tropical Storm Irene, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Houdlette of the Maine Army National Guard said Friday from Augusta.
“Around 200 soldiers were sent down for debris removal,” he said.
The citizen soldiers were originally scheduled for an eight-day deployment, but that has changed to 15 days, Houdlette said.
Even though it has been 10 years since 19 al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and killed nearly 3,000 people, now is not the time to be complacent, Libby said.
“My fear is that 9/11 will fade into the background” and people will forget, he said, adding the country needs to stay vigilant.