ANDOVER, MASS. -- "None whatsoever."
That was how the armed guard rated my chances yesterday of getting inside the Raytheon Co. Missile Systems Division plant, where most key components of the Patriot missile are made.
The guard radioed someone in a vehicle about 100 yards away to block the road into the plant. The guard was inside the entrance booth, where about 20 cars are waiting to pass through the chain-link and barbed-wire perimeter.
"Joe, this particular individual is a reporter. I am instructing him to make a U-turn. Over."
I was hardly surprised, having called Raytheon corporate headquarters in Lexington earlier in the day. I spoke to Larry McCracken, the company's chief spokesman who told me about the need for security, Defense Department regulations and more. No, I could not even speak by phone to anyone who has anything to do with the Patriot.
"We're trying to stay in the background," McCracken said.
That is the Raytheon way. The company has been doing business in Massachusetts since 1922 and is the state's largest employer, with 30,500 apparently tight-lipped workers. But, while everybody knows what Gillette, Polaroid or Friendly's Ice Cream make here, hardly anyone knows what Raytheon does.
Even in Andover, where Raytheon is the biggest taxpayer, many neighbors had no idea what was going on inside the big, low building next to Interstate 93.
At Ford's Coffee Shop on Main Street, many folks said they first learned about the Patriot by watching television and sure were pleased to discover that it was made here.
"I was impressed with it," said Jim McMurrough, an electronic salesman who does business with Raytheon. "I thought it was for aircraft . . . . I'm happy to hear that it worked. We can get some of our money back."
"I think it's incredible," said Carolyn Black, 24, an insurance agent. "I was happy to hear it was working so well." She said she had heard this analogy in baseball-conscious New England: A Patriot hitting a Scud is like someone anywhere on the field waiting until a pitcher delivers the ball toward home plate, then trying to hit that ball by throwing another one at it. "Everyone at Raytheon is so proud."
In this prosperous, mostly white town that voted for President Bush over then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, colonial style homes and shops mingle with modern office buildings. There are no yellow ribbons, only a smattering of American flags.
But there is quiet pride that Andover has provided the technical star of the Persian Gulf War. In part, that satisfaction stems from the performance of the Patriots, which have intercepted nearly every Iraqi missile they have attempted to stop.
In part, too, the good feelings stem from the fact that the Patriot is not a weapon of mass destruction, simply a defensive weapon that protects troops and civilians sitting in harm's way.
Customers at Ford's said they could not remember any anti-war protests at the Raytheon plant, and letters to the editor at the Eagle-Tribune in nearby Lawrence have been praising the company.
Even Rep. Chester Atkins (D), who represents Andover in the House, decided to tour the plant this week, stressing his record of support for the Patriot. Although Atkins joined the Massachusetts delegation in voting against giving President Bush authority to launch the war against Iraq, he has used his Appropriations Committee seat to fight for keeping Patriots on the Pentagon's shopping list.
Reporters were not allowed to accompany Atkins, who reported that morale was "sky-high" inside. The Eagle-Tribune quoted Cheryl Wheeler, a dispatcher in the Raytheon Missile Systems Division, as saying many workers cheered when they heard the news of the first Patriot intercept in combat last week.
"There's this feeling you get when you build a product and it works," Wheeler said. "It makes you feel good . . . . This was the first time it knocked down another missile, and we helped build it."
A few miles away from the Raytheon plant is the elegant campus of Phillips Academy, the private boarding school attended by a young George Bush (class of 1942) before he enlisted in the Navy for World War II.
About a dozen students gathered in an auditorium to plan attendance at an anti-war march planned Saturday in Washington. Faculty members helping to arrange the trip advised them to dress warmly and bring extra socks. Chris Cook, an art teacher, told the students that the school is not sponsoring the trip, so they should tell their parents.
Donna Coppola, 17, a senior, said she planned to attend the protest but acknowledged that it has been "really hard for me to figure out what I think." She said there is no consensus on campus, although almost all students are paying far more attention to the news.
"Politically, I see more of the people who oppose it, but I think there are many who support the war," Coppola said, adding that everyone wished U.S. troops well.
"Even though my generation didn't experience Vietnam, I think it's important that the troops have our support," she said.
On the trip back to Boston, the all-news radio station was wrapping up the latest Pentagon briefing on the war. Sirens were sounding in Saudi Arabia and Israel. More Iraqi Scud missiles had been launched. But Patriots knocked them down.