Security Forces Help Keep Convoys Safe in Afghanistan
By Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, May 26, 2004 Besides their more traditional role of providing installation security, airmen here assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron have taken on two other important combat-related responsibilities in support of the global war on terrorism.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Norte, 455th Expeditionary
Security Forces Squadron, stands guard in the middle of an Afghan village while
providing security for an Adopt-a-Village convoy operation. Photo by 2nd Lt.
John Edwards, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Security forces airmen are providing security for convoy operations that maneuver over the rugged, and potentially hostile, Afghanistan landscape outside Bagram Air Base. A newly created tactical security element of the squadron also provides cover for Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents in the field conducting counter-intelligence missions and weapons searches, as well as apprehending suspected anti-coalition forces.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Earl Rogers, 455th ESFS convoy operations and tactical security element operations superintendent, said security forces personnel have been running convoys for years, but not in deployed combat zones.
"The convoys are initiated to deliver humanitarian assistance to local villages in need," he said. "Participation is strictly (voluntary), and I train all security members prior to their acceptance to this team."
Rogers emphasized that when conducting a humanitarian assistance convoy, security forces are protecting other airmen, not the bundles of clothes and other goods being delivered to the Afghan citizens. "Our resources during these missions are the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group personnel themselves," said Rogers. "The cargo is expendable."
Like the team that provides convoy security, the tactical security element is made up of highly motivated, skilled ESFS airmen, said Rogers. Team members are hand-picked, and Rogers provides them with specialized training. The team, in turn, conducts additional training with the OSI. The concept of a TSE is a totally new mission for security forces, said Rogers.
The younger troops who have bravely accepted the risk of going "outside the wire" to be a part of the security convoys and TSE operations have inspired Rogers, he said.
"The thing that has made me most proud is to see the young airmen step up and volunteer to conduct these risky missions off base," he said. "When we go outside the wire, it is no joke. There are people out there who want to kill coalition forces, but these young troops see the need for the missions and are willing to participate."
One volunteer is Air Force Senior Airman Derek Wagner, a security response team leader deployed here from Misawa Air Base, Japan, who is a member of both the convoy operations team and the TSE. He said he wanted to be a part of both details "to gain some real experience and to make a difference in an area where I could see the results."
"I'm proud to be a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, because I truly believe that the efforts being put forth in Afghanistan will make a difference in the lives of the people here in the long haul," he said. "I know that later in life, I will be able to look back and be proud that I was part of that effort."
Besides Misawa, SFS troops assigned here come from McChord Air Force Base, Wash.; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. They have meshed nicely into one cohesive unit, said Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph Ramos, 455th ESFS operations superintendent, protecting people and equipment critical to Operation Enduring Freedom.
Besides their off-base missions, Ramos said, the SFS troops ensure a secure environment on Bagram Air Base so that the aircraft maintainers and fighter pilots deployed here from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, can effectively generate A-10 Thunderbolt II combat sorties.
"The troops provide security for resources vital to the worldwide war on terrorism," he said. "These resources, in turn, support our ground forces on the battlefield. Airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines are working together to take the fight to the enemy."
Although the airmen of the 455th ESFS work long hours and will have at least another three months to go on their deployment here when they watch many of their 455th EOG comrades begin to depart for home in June, both sergeants said morale and focus remain high.
"The troops understand they are performing an important job, fighting the global war on terrorism," said Ramos. "They also know the potential for danger is always there. Those two things keep the troops motivated."
Rogers praised the airmen's dedication. "The young airmen are doing a fantastic job. They are professional, dedicated and alert," he said. "They see the task before them, and understand the reason why we're here. They are committed to seeing that the job gets done."
Ramos said the entire ESFS team here is enthusiastic about being a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, while Rogers spoke of the personal gratification he has gained from his deployment.
"Everyone that is part of OEF is proud!" Ramos said emphatically. "I know this, because I have been told by airmen on numerous occasions that they are glad to be here. In fact, one of them told me that the reason he enlisted was to do his part in the (global war on terrorism)."
Rogers said he's proud to be involved. "The best part of this deployment is seeing all the good we are doing," he said. "When I can facilitate the delivery of supplies to a local orphanage that has kids sleeping almost on top of each other, in a building that is bullet-ridden from the Taliban occupation, it puts a whole new light on the war on terrorism."
(Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski is assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.)