On Guard in Kyrgyzstan
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 12, 2002 One deployment after another. That's what duty is like for members of the 822nd Security Forces out of Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga. Their job involves safeguarding U.S. forces in deployed locations.
"Our unit does nothing but train and deploy to contingency operations," said Air Force Lt. Col. Donald T.R. Derry. "We know exactly what we're getting into. It's just we don't always know where we're going."
The squadron's latest deployment has brought them to a land few U.S. service members have seen. The unit is part of the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Ganci Air Base, near Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. The base is at Manas International Airport, which has about five commercial flights per day.
About 1,000 American troops and an equal number of coalition forces are stationed at Ganci to support fighter, tanker and cargo operations into Afghanistan. The United States, Australia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Spain all have forces at Ganci.
Americans named the base in honor of New York City Fire Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., who was directing fire and rescue operations and was killed when the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Air Force Brig. Gen. V. Wayne Lloyd commands the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. The West Virginia Air National Guardsman said he's proud of the U.S. and coalition forces that are working together as a team. Their common goal, he said, is to "defeat the terrorists and make the world safe for everybody that's out there."
Lloyd said the support and commitment from Kyrgyzstan in allowing the coalition forces to operate out of their country has been outstanding.
"This is a former Soviet Union state," the general noted. "I talked to one of their general officers who's in the government here. I said, 'Did you ever think 10, 12 years ago you'd ever see U.S. forces and the coalition forces here on your soil?' He said, 'Twelve years ago, I was in the KGB. No, I never thought I would see this."
In mid-February, Derry, of Colchester, Vt., became commander of the security forces squadron and the coalition defense force at Ganci.
"I'm very excited to be here," Derry said. "It's a fantastic opportunity to be in the former Soviet Union on a former Soviet military air base. It's something I never thought I'd get to do when I joined the Air Force back in 1982."
Around base, Derry can often be seen riding a Honda Rancher all-terrain vehicle. Off-base, he meets with local police chiefs, town mayors and other local authorities.
Force protection at the base requires being alert to the potential threat of a terrorist attack. U.S. security forces in Humvees patrol up to five kilometers out from the airfield, an area that includes 16 villages ranging in size from 50 to 2,000 people.
U.S. troops have been well-received, Derry said. "The local population has been very gracious to us," he said. "The host nation has been very supportive (of) anything we want to do in the area. We've had a lot of schools in the states send us toys and food, and every time we go out to the villages we take some toys and food out for the villages."
U.S. troops go into Bishkek each day on recreational tours, he added, and a U.S. security patrol works with the Bishkek police.
"We've established a fantastic relationship with the Bishkek police chief," Derry said. "We have a town patrol that works with the Bishkek police. At any given time when I have a town patrol out there during the recreational tours, we have a Bishkek police officer with us. We have an interpreter and a vehicle with us."
Facilities for U.S. and coalition troops were limited when they arrived, but operations and maintenance areas and living quarters have all been set up.
"Initially, there was nothing here," Derry said. "We've been working with the airport authority and the people with the international airport, but the majority of the facilities here we've created from scratch."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Hiser of Toledo, Ohio, is another squadron member. He served about 10 years on active duty before joining the Air National Guard.
Self-employed as a private investigator in civilian life, Hiser said he had no problem with being activated for the mission. He knew he'd be called as soon as he learned of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. So far, he deems the Kyrgyzstan deployment "not bad."
"Some people have cots, some have beds," Hiser said. "We live in tents but they've got heat. Fresh food's starting to come in. A lot of the shopkeepers speak English. It's kind of broken -- Russian, Chinese, Kyrgyz -- but you can figure it out. People are pretty nice. Some don't want us here; some do."