gnome | 19.03.2003 17:45
Released: March 19, 2003
By Staff Sgt. Jim Fisher
457th Air Expeditionary Group
ROYAL AIR FORCE FAIRFORD, England (USAFENS) -- Through 13-plus hour shifts, endless walks across the tarmac, cold wind and demonstrators lurking on the fence line, security forces at here are undaunted.
RAF Fairford is now home to a deployed force topping more than 1,000 military members and a number of B-52 bombers. They are positioned to support the global war on terrorism and possible contingency operations. While safeguarding these activities, the security forces flight has encountered a unique form of antagonism, and answered with their "Defensor Fortis" brand of determination and success
Senior Airman Andre May, security forces member here, peers across the airfield from his post guarding a B-52. He's working through another day shift. It wouldn't surprise him to see someone walking along the fence, looking for a way to get through it. A group of anti-war demonstrators has camped outside the installation for weeks. After numerous break ins, incidents of vandalism and harassment � the troops are used to their presence � and watching their every move.
"The difference in this assignment is that at other locations you prepare for and anticipate the threat. Here you actually see it," May said. "It makes you more vigilant. It changes the attitude you have coming to work."
Though local police have made numerous arrests and the resources are locked down tight, the protesters' constant presence keeps the cops' attention keenly focused. It has been that way since the Kobar Towers bombing, Daharan, Saudi Arabia, in 1996. Still another reminder came with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Our primary threat is not protesters. It's terrorism," said Master Sgt. Brian Stevenson, the security forces team's day-shift flight leader. People attempt to get in, but it's impossible to determine their intent. Each encroachment is met with an urgent response.
"Anyone trying to enter our installation may be a terrorist," Stevenson said. "They could be trying to infiltrate along with the protesters and cause serious harm to our people and damage to our resources."
To safeguard the right of people to peacefully demonstrate according to local laws, a cooperative effort has emerged. Security forces are working in concert with law-enforcement officers from the Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence and local constabularies. Several of the agencies have brought dogs to bolster detection and apprehension capabilities. An intricate system of fencing and concertina wire are also embedded to snag intruders.
"There are basically four layers of security," May explained. "They may get through the initial fence, but they won't make it much farther."
Thermal imaging systems, which senses and sees anything giving off heat, including people, combines with K-9s and airmen in elevated observation posts. It all makes detection immediate and precise. "They can see everything," Stevenson said.
The huge multi agency force, barbed wire and technology are backed by a precious intangible � the determination of Air Force cops.
"Everyone out here is very dedicated and knows we have a very important role," the flight leader said. "We're here so these B-52s are able to fly and put bombs on target. We're going to ensure that happens."
That process is something that unfolds over the course of duty. As May watches the "avenues of approach" an intruder might use to get to his aircraft, he processes various radio calls. He hears alerts of a man on the fence 100 yards away, and news of the relief patrol is due in 45 minutes.
"Over the radio, there's always word of someone taking pictures, looking through the fence, or getting caught in the barbed wire," said Airman Christopher Dietrich, another cop on patrol.
When a similar intruder alert came in the initial phase of the deployment, the trespassers were immediately spotted on the airfield. Dietrich and members of his shift responded, making the apprehension.
"It changed a lot of things," he said. "Whenever I hear something on the radio, I am a lot more alert. I'm looking around 360 degrees all the time."
Since the current measures have been in place, the security forces have thwarted all attempts to enter restricted areas. Capt. Kris Zhea, Security Forces commander, diagramed the success.
"We have worked very hard to provide a secure environment for air operations here," he said. "We have incorporated the manpower and resources of several agencies and woven them into one cohesive force; all with the same purpose -- to protect Air Force assets."
May broke it down further.
"We're determined to not allow anyone who hops the fence anywhere near our aircraft," May said. "If someone does get through, we're all over them."
Standing down at the end of a long shift, May and his comrades lift their sore feet into vehicles as their replacements arrive. Maintenance and other flight preparations continue in the background. As they pick up sight of the protesters in the frigid wind, they relay information matter-of-factly. Despite the threat, the cops look like cops posting at any other location � sober, confident the situation is in hand and ready for anything.