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Resort hotel also serves as military test site

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) - To the tourists who frolic in the crystal-blue surf of this picturesque, white-sand beach, the Fort Walton Beach Holiday Inn Resort looks like, well, a Holiday Inn with a large beach ball statue on top. But to military officials, it is known as Eglin Air Force Range Test Site A5.

The combination resort hotel and military test site opened in late May in an unusual partnership between the military and private business in a time of tighter military budgets. In exchange for allowing the Innisfree Hotel company to build the 152-room resort on Air Force land, the military was able to construct a rooftop station that receives radar signals and a secure conference room for classified meetings. The dome hiding the military equipment is painted red, white, blue and yellow like a beach ball.

While the Air Force has done other projects with private companies before, this is the first time it has ever merged a base with a hotel, said Mike Spaits, the base spokesman.

The dome was added to the radar installation to make it "less military and more visitor-friendly," said Wesley Mason, a contractor who helped develop the project.

Outside, tourists with drinks in hand floated through the landscaped, beach-front pool featuring a rocky waterfall fountain. Inside, families browsed the beach-themed gift shop and dined at a restaurant overlooking the pool.

The military presence is unobtrusive and limited to a few people, often contract employees without uniforms, who work on the roof.

Lamon Moody, a hotel guest from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, relaxed on the beach with his family on a recent afternoon. Moody said he had no idea the beach ball covered military equipment.

"I think that's pretty cool. I'm in favor of anything that helps out the military," he said.

Another vacationer, Jeff Harwell of Fort Worth, Texas, said he and his family had speculated about the giant beach ball.

"We talked about it when we were first noticed it," he said. "We thought maybe those things sticking out of it were lightning rods."

The hotel was a win for both sides. It allowed the military to make use of small section of beachfront it owns on Okaloosa Island that is cut off by commercial developments from the rest of the Eglin's more than 17-mile expanse of beach, Spaits said. The military couldn't make good use of the land for beach training exercises or test missions without building a tower or other structure to place equipment above the surrounding hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. Innisfree is paying the military about $190,000 a year in rent, the Air Force said.

It allowed the hotel company to build on a prime beachfront site surrounded by popular attractions such as the Gulfarium marine park and the nearby convention center, said Ivana Coteat, the hotel's sales director.

"This is a perfect location. You can see us right from the bridge on Highway 98. You cannot miss us," she said.

People from the area who know about the arrangement occasionally ask for a tour of the roof, but it is off-limits, Coteat said.

Chris Nixon, who oversees testing at the range, said Test Site A5 is a coveted posting for workers who monitor testing and equipment because of its view overlooking the pool and the beach.

"It is a popular place to work," he said with a laugh.

The roof also features a small conference room where military officials, including Brig. Gen. David Harris, commander of Eglin's 96th Test Wing, can hold classified conversations.

But Harris said the most important benefit of the partnership is the morale boost it provides military families who get discounted rates at the resort.

"Young airmen who would never get a chance to stay in place like this can bring their families for some R and R," he said.

Nathan King, a range telemetry engineer for Eglin Air Force Base who sometimes works at Test Site A5 jokes that the atmosphere can be "distracting" at times.

"It is definitely an interesting place to work," King said.

Join the discussion

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Dr. Graves June 24 2014 at 7:16 AM

Are you guys IDIOTS?!!! Does anyone care about our nations security? If the Government wanted the world to know about this they would have published it! Some stuff just shouldn't be published for sake of safety of our country.

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6 replies
TripleXKimberly June 24 2014 at 7:40 AM

So much for keeping this a secret! This should be on a need to know basis and no one needs to know.

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1 reply
dofx TripleXKimberly June 24 2014 at 1:38 PM

It ain't a secret. Never was meant to be a secret. And even you don't know what they are doing inside that beachball....

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hwrjmcl June 24 2014 at 4:27 PM

Plain and simple so that everyone understands- It is severely detrimental to National Security to publicize matters like this. It may border on treason and be subject to prosecution. NS is PARAMOUNT !!!!

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2 replies
kbear09090 hwrjmcl June 24 2014 at 8:08 PM

This not a secret it is public knowledge. get a grip

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mennis0852 hwrjmcl June 24 2014 at 8:44 PM

If it was secret then why is the person that oversees the testing at the range talking about it? This is a test site not a National Security site. Stuff is being tested before being deployed elsewhere.

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Al Horvath June 24 2014 at 10:42 AM

Only AOL and Huffington Post could call something to do with the national defense "shady."

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1 reply
Ken Al Horvath June 24 2014 at 10:46 AM

where have you been living under a rock...? or just watching FOX/CNN/MSNBC disinfo propaganda. thats not me saying it is propaganda, that is a legal fact. they are legally allowed to print disinformation under so-called free speech due to a court ruling a few years ago during bush administration. wake up!

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moradadavislodi June 24 2014 at 12:51 PM

If I am reading about it on the Internet, it really isn't a "secret."

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sugarcreekchile June 24 2014 at 10:30 AM

What a disappointment! I was hoping the beach ball was being used to contact alien life forms.

On a serious note, the military installation on top of the hotel makes it a target for terrorists endangering unsuspecting guests. At least when the military builds a base by a city, the residents know what they're accepting. Although, the hotel may never be targeted, I wouldn't want to risk checking into it.

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2 replies
Ken sugarcreekchile June 24 2014 at 10:47 AM

you mean to say false flag ops on americans. wake up

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mennis0852 sugarcreekchile June 24 2014 at 8:52 PM

Since this hotel is built on Air Force land it is already a target for terrorists.

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Kay Gadd June 24 2014 at 10:08 AM

The Goverment took this land Eminet Domain(we have to have for military porpoises)and are now renting the land to a hotel chain.The military has hundreds of acres of beachfront property just a couple of miles down the street.I dont think the Government should be in the Hotel business! I feel sorry for the people that had their land taken from them under the Eminet Domain Flag JRG FT. Walton Beach

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2 replies
ofleck Kay Gadd June 24 2014 at 10:23 AM

Not those dastardly military porpoises.....I say let those dolphins go!!!!!

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dofx Kay Gadd June 24 2014 at 1:43 PM

The Air Force has had this land for over 75 years, duffus.

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Ken June 24 2014 at 10:39 AM

" in an unusual partnership between the military and private business in a time of tighter military budgets" UNUSUAL?! lol what a line. when is the military NOT in partnership with private business? lockheed? nothrup grumman? blackwater? etc etc

"...and a secure conference room for classified meetings." yea ...perfect for false flag planning, staging attack on the people who wake up to the police state, or bilderberg group meetings, and similar... LOL

oh wait the people reading this are like .... that cant happen... and ... duhhh what is bilderberg.... or... 'those people are just helping us get that world government that we need so much....'

sheesh another nail in our coffin...

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2 replies
Ken Ken June 24 2014 at 10:42 AM

i almost forgot.... "tighter military budgets" that really takes the cake of bs propaganda, we have the largest military budget on the face of the earth several times over.... this is just blatant disinformation. this doesnt even mention the black budget... get real AOL!

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S321Saint Ken June 24 2014 at 6:49 PM

Ken...please get some professional help...please...and please dont have kids...ever.

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fernandezarthr June 24 2014 at 7:08 PM

So what???....big deal!!!.....

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dwtomczyk June 24 2014 at 3:06 PM

dumb people dont know better

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