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Navy protects coast

The Navy returned a Central Whidbey landmark to its coastal defense roots Aug. 15 to 25 as reservists spent their annual training at Fort Casey, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, and sites on the Quimper Peninsula.

During Seahawk 2004, an annual exercise, armed forces practiced harbor security and coastal defense. Nearly 800 Navy personnel along with U.S. Army and Canadian forces traveled to Indian Island Naval Magazine near Port Townsend and the west coast of Whidbey Island.

Fort Casey State Park provided units with land and unobstructed views across Admiralty Inlet. Before World War I. guns at forts Casey, Worden and Flagler provided a triangle of fire across Admiralty Inlet protecting Puget Sound’s inland waters. Since the 1950s, when Fort Casey became a state park, thousands of visitors explore every year.

For two weeks, park visitors gawked at more than ferries and seals. Camouflaged people sweeping land, water and sky with high-powered binoculars as radars and antennas whirled captured visitors’ attention.

Despite the more than 150 people activated along Whidbey’s waterlines, few residents knew the purpose of Seahawk 2004.

“We’re doing our mission -- insuring that goods and people are transported safely,” Cmdr. Ron Savage, Seahawk 2004 exercise coordinator, said during a cell phone interview Monday.

To explain the lack of media notice, Savage said the military exercise had little public affairs support. While local media enjoyed a dearth of information on Seahawk 2004, residents noticed the exercise along Whidbey Island. Boats and camouflaged personnel garnered attention and discussion among residents who noticed them along Whidbey’s roads and waters.

State parks officials said the Navy filed special use permits to restrict the public from certain areas of the Fort Casey State Park.

“They are out here almost every year,” Park Ranger Brett Bayne said. “One small area of Keystone Spit was closed so (the Navy) could use sensitive equipment they didn’t even want us to see.”

Along the coast, Naval Coastal Warfare Defense Group 1 members from San Diego --- as well as reservists from numerous Navy bases — practiced mobile inshore undersea warfare maneuvers. In essence, they monitored air, land and sea traffic approaching Indian Island, where munitions are stored. They sent the information their eyes, radar and digital surveillance measurements gathered, to a communications center on Keystone Spit, Cmdr. John Watts said Tuesday. Watts is stationed with a group for Fort Worth Naval Air Station. From the communications center, sailors analyzed information to practice protecting harbors and coastlines.

“Most of these people have been in the Persian Gulf,” Savage said. “We’re reinforcing what they know and training new people. Almost everyone will eventually head to the Persian Gulf.”

The exercise protected the Strait of Jan de Fuca by fusing U.S. Navy and Coast Guard with U.S. Army and Canadian forces.

Savage said such coordination provides critical experience.

“In the Persian Gulf, coastal defense units must work with different U.S. military as well as multinational forces and host nations,” he said

This year marks the eighth year of Seahawk exercises. As always, the bulk of actions took place on Indian Island. However, vehicles sporting surveillance equipment and olive drab clad people and tents as well as restricted parcels of coastline did not escape residents’ attention. Watts said some units would be packed up by this evening. He expects his group will need all of Thursday to pack before heading for Texas Friday morning.

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