by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
2/19/2013 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- A group
of Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron is
combining the old school skills of tracking with modern technology to
bring a new capability to the fight.
"It stemmed from a lot of research in preparation for our deployment,"
Staff Sgt. Benjamin DeSantiago said, a 455th ESFS Reaper team tracker.
"We thought instead of just simply conducting routine base defense ...
why not actually attempt to find the insurgents right on the spot."
DeSantiago credits his team's officer-in-charge, 1st Lt. Joshua Loomis,
with gaining approval from leadership for the team to learn the
necessary skills. The three-man team would eventually arrive at the
tactical tracking operation school on Ft. Huachuca, Ariz.
"We informed the president of the school of our mission and told him
what our needs were in preparation for our deployment," DeSantiago said,
"(and) he tailored the school solely around air base defense to help us
When the Airmen first arrived for training, they did indeed think there were going to be playing cowboys.
"We thought we would end up putting our ears to the ground and listening
to the winds for signs of our quarry," DeSantiago recalled.
However, the primitive was soon merged with the modern.
"(The instructor) taught us the proper emplacement of unattended ground
sensors," DeSantiago said. "By using these sensors and emplacing them in
areas of interest we can focus our patrols."
By the time of their arrival on Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, the tracker Airmen were ready to put their skills to the test.
"Whenever there is an attack, we act as a quick response force,"
DeSantiago said. "We are always on call. We go out with the responding
team and assess where the insurgents came from and where they went to by
tracking the ground spoor (indicators of a human presence), aerial
spoor and any ground sign left behind."
While trackers can be found in the Army, they are rarer in the Air Force, a fact these Airmen are proud of to p.
"The instructor informed us that there were only a handful of us in the
Air Force that he pushed through his course as certified U.S. Army
trackers," DeSantiago said.
On the other hand, having a special mission can bring its own set of challenges.
"There are only three of us certified and our capabilities are unique
and new, especially to the base defense mission," DeSantiago said. "So
we are learning a lot and improving daily."
However, those that would seek to do harm should beware. The trackers
recently completed their first mission, investigating a specific area
for insurgent activity.
"We reconned the whole area," Loomis said, " ... looking for vehicle
tracks, footprints, trash left behind, so we could limit the search to a
Having identified multiple trails that could be used by insurgents, the
trackers placed their sensors and will augment them with cameras if the
sensors yield results.
Loomis added that the trackers are training other security forces Airmen
to expand the number of teams that can go out on future missions.
"We have plans in place to utilize this skill set," Loomis said. "We're pretty excited."