By Maj. David Kurle, USAF
WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2006 – Security forces protect Air Force people and resources worldwide, even when those resources are on the move at more than 300 miles per hour. The C-130 Hercules cargo plane is the primary means of moving supplies and troops around Afghanistan. Aircrews frequently land at remote, dirt landing strips to support U.S. and coalition forces.
In a combat zone, high-value assets, like aircraft and people, need protection. But these small, out-of-the-way airfields often have little or no security. The 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron has a solution to this security dilemma in the form of the Fly-Away Security Team, or FAST. "Our job is to protect the aircraft and its crew at all forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan," said Maj. J. Scott Sanford, the squadron's commander.
Similar to the "Phoenix Raven" program in the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, which specially trains security forces members for duty aboard cargo aircraft, the teams here enable C-130s to land at airfields throughout the theater, and sometimes countries outside Afghanistan. When a Hercules lands at a remote strip, the security forces pour out from the back of the plane and take up positions where they can keep an eye on the surrounding landscape.
"We're here to deny unauthorized people access to the plane," said Senior Airman Charles Coles, a FAST member deployed here from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Protecting the aircraft on the ground is only part of the job. C-130 crews find themselves transporting non-U.S. troops and civilians, as well as enemy detainees. "In the air, if there are a lot of foreign nationals or prisoners, we do 'cockpit denial,'" -- measures taken to prevent hijacking, Coles said.
The teams also provide security for distinguished visitors, military and civilian, who sometimes travel aboard the aircraft. "You never know what to expect when you get onboard the aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Taverna, noncommissioned officer in charge of the FAST missions. "We have had teams go out to secure 130s with mechanical difficulties stuck overnight at forward operating bases, and our teams are out there providing security until parts can be flown to the location."
The aircrews receive peace of mind knowing that security teams are watching out for them. "If they're going to tell me to take (a security team) with us, I'm going to take them with us and be glad we have them," said Maj. Jim Hornbeck, a C-130 pilot from the Delaware Air National Guard.
The fly-away missions are a welcome change of pace for the security forces airmen. "I get to leave the base," said Airman Maurice Grant, part of the FAST program. "After 12-hour shifts every day, I don't get outside the wire. It's a change of scenery."
"I'm really proud of the airmen who do these missions," Sanford said. "For most security forces, this is not something they have daily experience doing until they get here." The major said his FAST airmen have flown more than 90,000 miles in six months, or the equivalent of almost 26 trips between London and New York, to support the airlift mission here.
(Air Force Major David Kurle is assigned to 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs.)