21st century security forces...not your father's Air Force

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Every man in Air Force uniform ought to be armed with something--a rifle, a tommy-gun, a pistol, a pike, or a mace; and everyone, without exception, should do at least one hour's drill and practice every day." Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume III: The Grand Alliance, Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1985 ed. pp. 692-693.

Though Sir Winston uttered this quote over half a century ago, it seems his vision is slowly coming to pass. By now you will have noticed the civilian guards checking your ID at the gates and you may have seen security forces patrol cars driven by Airmen and NCOs with a civil engineer, maintenance, ammo, etc. function badge in place of the force protector badge. 

On occasion, you may have noticed some of your squadron members have been tasked to augment security forces or guard the perimeter out at Northstar. Hold fast to your Air Force Specialty Code because Air Force security is changing and you have a part to play! Given this opportunity to write an article, I thought I'd share a quick snapshot of where Air Force physical security is heading, and perhaps more importantly, how it affects you. 

As everyone is painfully aware, the uncertainty that followed the demise of the Cold War in the 1990's was intensified by the events of 9/11. America and her allies are now faced with a transnational threat to their security and way of life. To counter this threat, the United States needs transnational warriors with the capability to operate in a smaller, more responsive fashion. The Army, in particular, finds itself involved in missions and environments, and at a tempo, previously unknown. As the Army has transformed itself to meet these challenges, security operators across the Department of Defense have also been forced to transform in order to take on responsibilities that were once the primary domain of the Army. 

Unlike during the Cold War when USAF security forces were responsible for an air base's perimeter located miles behind the front lines and insulated by defensive layers provided by its sister services to the front, SF defenders now find themselves securing a totally new environment. Most significantly, there are no "front lines" in transnational combat scenarios. Airfields exist in the center of hotly contested cities and areas where car bombs, suicide bombers, and covert militants constantly pose a threat to USAF and DoD missions. Secondly, the Army and Marines are simply stretched too thin to provide the same degree of insulating security they once did. SF are now expected to assume a number of different roles and responsibilities in conjunction with other services. General T. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recently directed SF to "get outside the wire...and get out there and begin to think about what's a threat to this airfield, what do we have to do to defend it so we can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a true joint sense, and in a true combatant sense...". While the changes may seem subtle to non-beret wearers, they represent major doctrinal shifts within the DoD and require SF to hone their skill sets to a new level of expertise. 

Due to the Congressionally-limited size of the U.S. military and the limitless number of missions required to confront transnational combatants, SF are now deploying to conduct missions at the behest of the of the Army and Marine Corps. USAF defenders are running prisons full of enemy combatants; they are leading convoys through dangerous "unsecured" city streets; they are conducting patrols far outside the confines of the air base. In fact, over 40 percent of SF deployments are directly tied to sister service taskings. Moreover, these taskings are expected to grow and are the reason that SF is deploying in four "bundles" of six months each rather than the ten "buckets" under the Air Expeditionary Force construct. A SF member in today's expeditionary Air Force can now expect to deploy every other 6-month period. These deployments, coupled with the extensive pre-deployment training required, typically equates to a seven to eight month period away from family. Making matters more difficult, Defenders who are not deployed are required to work 180 to 280 hours a month to compensate for the large numbers of deployed personnel. 

So what does this mean to you? You have probably noticed or experienced first-hand a change to our security posture at Vandenberg. As SF are tapped more heavily for wartime taskings, home-base security will increasingly become the responsibility of Airmen from all walks of life. The goal and the need is for every Airman to be a sensor--a defender. Hence the security assistance we receive from Air Reserve Component volunteers, contract security guards, and wing augmentees. I want to take this opportunity to publicly express my thanks to them and their units for their exceptional work during long hours and difficult schedules. Security duties are not easy and are incredibly important. We could not ensure Vandenberg's assured access to space without them! They deserve your thanks as well. If you have not expressed your appreciation for their diligence and professionalism keeping the base secure, I encourage you to do so. 

Finally, as a result of the changing security environment, you can expect that deployed missions that have long been tasked to SF will soon be given to other Air Force Specialty Codes--which means increased deployments for you. The Department of Defense is relying on SF to conduct more complicated security missions at deployed locations. Consequently, it is closely evaluating a number of missions that do not require a fully trained defender to perform and tasking those out to other AFSC's. Physical security has always been everyone's business--but what has often been rhetoric is quickly becoming a tangible reality.