(FORT DIX, N.J.) - A force of 25 to 30 officers patrols Fort Dix, 65 square miles carved out of the Pine Barrens of South Jersey, coping with domestic disputes, drunk drivers and the other kinds of trouble that people inside and out of the military can get into.
The U.S. Department of Defense Police unit also has a detective division, a D.A.R.E. officer and is expected to get a helicopter soon.
"It's just like a regular town," says Officer Glenn J. Perry.
But few small towns would be called on to provide a temporary refuge for hundreds of refugees from the brutal fighting in Kosovo or to provide a frequent welcome for high-ranking federal and state officials. Fort Dix is also a company town since most of the 1,000 or so residents work for the Defense Department.
The police unit would be huge for a town that size. But the base is now home to federal and state prisons and an FBI training center in addition to the remaining military installations. And because Dix is federal property, even a speeding ticket on one of the highways that cross it is literally a federal case.
The officers working at Fort Dix are part of the Department of Defense police, federal civilian employees who are sworn members of law enforcement, not the military.
Fort Dix has been an Army base since World War I, and the main police office is on Doughboy Loopm named in honor of the "doughboys" who formed the backbone of the American Expeditionary Force. Thousands of soldiers went through basic training there before going to fight in World War II, Korea and Vietnam or at the beginning of service in the peacetime military. Now, in the reorganized and downsized military, Dix serves as a training center for the National Guard and the Reserves, and sits next to McGuire Air Force Base, a major staging point for recent U.S. missions to the Balkans and Africa.
One of Fort Dix's biggest recent efforts was Operation Provide Refuge. More than 4,000 ethnic Albanians fleeing the civil war in Kosovo were housed at the base for several weeks in the spring of 1999 on their way from overcrowded refugee camps to new homes, temporary or permanent, in cities around the United States. Then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton came to the base in May to welcome the first arrivals.
The refugees needed food, housing, medical care and space to hold Muslim religious services. One woman gave birth to a son within hours of her arrival at McGuire.
At a ceremony in June marking the refugees' departure, Brigadier Gen. James Helmly said that Fort Dix was an ideal location because of "its expansibility. The infrastructure and staff are accustomed to expanding on short notice, just as they do for mobilization." The police officers provided security for high-profile visitors, including the First Lady, and helped protect the refugees from the inquisitive while making sure that aid workers were able to get their jobs done.
"It was a huge undertaking for the department," Perry said.