A lot of people have seen the exciting world of combat arms training or the cute, but capable, military working dogs, but most are not familiar with the rough—and sometimes intense—duties of Air Force defenders in Afghanistan.
These Airmen stand watch for more than 12 hours per day, in 115-degree heat, ensuring unauthorized individuals do not gain access to the installation and cause harm to personnel and assets.
The decisions security forces Airmen make could potentially have huge ramifications, both internally and internationally.
Airmen 1st Class Drew and Giovanni, who are flightline security element members with the 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, recently had to deescalate a potentially volatile situation where they had mere seconds to make a possibly life-altering decision.
“During one of our shifts, we had a small, unknown convoy approach our position at a high-speed, so I contacted the Joint Defense Operations Center to confirm if we were expecting any inbounds at that time,” Giovanni said. “Once we received word that we weren’t expecting anyone, we followed our rules of engagement.”
The rules of engagement, known as ROEs, define the process of escalation of force to ensure that all measures are taken to resolve a situation with minimal use of force. Security forces Airmen at Kandahar use tactics such as verbal shouting, daze with a laser and warning shots to deter unknown entities from entering the installation.
“We did not know who these guys were and knew we needed to take the proper steps to deescalate the situation,” Drew said, who was tracking them using the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, a sophisticated remote-controlled vehicle-mounted weapon system. “They were within 100 meters of our position as we waited for guidance from our leadership on what to do.”
This highly stressful situation, which felt like hours, was only a couple of seconds and could have ended badly. The convoy eventually stopped, with the individuals inside the vehicles dismounting. The individuals would ultimately reenter their vehicles and turn around.
Despite everything that was going on, Giovanni and Drew kept their cool and remembered their training.
We fell back on our training and used one another as support, Drew said, who related this incident to any given situation that may occur back at their home station.
“We both came into this deployment ready and knowing what could possibly happen,” Giovanni said. “Not only did we come in mentally prepared, but the training we received prepared us for these types of situations.”
Teamwork is paramount to these types of situations. As the situation came to an end and the unknown parties left, the two Airmen provided as much information as possible to their command and control element, to include the size of the convoy, their activity, location, uniform or clothing, time and equipment.
Giovanni and Drew have been working with each other for more than two years and attributed deploying as a unit to enhancing their effectiveness and teamwork.
“While no shots were fired, we both understand we were within seconds of having to fire our weapons,” Drew said. “Everyone understands the magnitude of what our job entails. We follow our ROEs and if it means potentially taking a life or losing our own, then so be it, that is what we signed up for.”
Giovanni and Drew’s leadership understands the responsibility the young Airmen have, but are confident in their abilities.
“I know what our team brings to the table and how well trained they are,” said Senior Master Sgt. Marcus Jackson, the 451st ESPTS superintendent. “It makes me sleep well at night. The communications alone demonstrate how alert, astute and ready they are.”
The 451st ESPTS security forces team at Kandahar Airfield has two distinct missions: provide flightline security and serve as a tactical security element, which provides watch and freedom of movement for coalition personnel.
Big decisions aren’t just being made in offices hundreds, thousands of miles away, the lowest ranking Airmen are making life-altering decisions daily, Jackson said.
“These guys are keyed-in and dedicated,” he said. “Our Airmen, regardless of rank, are so confident and competent on escalation of force. They know what level of force to use and how to communicate with each other and our leaders.”
Jackson attributes the unit’s success to good training, mentorship and Airmen willing to make tough decisions when the need arises.
“It wasn’t just us who acted, it was everyone,” said Giovanni. “As soon as a situation happens, everyone’s senses are heightened. They know if something is happening on our side, there is a possibility an incursion could happen on theirs.”
While base defense is a team effort, it starts at the lowest level. A lot is entrusted to the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the base. The ability to effectively use their training and to confidently carry it out pays dividends in saving the lives of others.