Defending the base: Watch Towers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Simple in focus and repetitive in duties, several missions at Bagram Airfield are woven into the day-to-day operation of the base in such a way that most people may see or hear of them once and then not interact with them the rest of their deployment. These are the missions where Airmen perform the same one or two tasks all day, over and over, as a full-time job and without much reprieve. As mundane as that may seem, these warriors are critical to enabling all missions on base by providing continual U.S. presence in the country. These duties are critical elements in base defense. Airman 1st Class Sandra Crawford is one of those warriors. As a 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron charlie-sector perimeter response team member, she spends at least 12 hours a day vigilantly scanning the Bagram Airfield perimeter for any potential threats and actively responds to all possible situations.

"Our main priority is to defend Bagram Airfield," Crawford said. "We make sure threats don't come on base."

PRT members in the watch tower stand at their post and look out for suspicious activity. Armed with weapons and surveillance equipment, they visually assess all traffic that passes through their sector, both inside and outside the wire.

"We are both a reactive force and deterrence," said Master Sgt. Benoit Wyble, the 455th ESFS charlie sector flight chief. "We sound the alarm and slow down the enemy the best we can to prevent them from gaining access to the installation."

Manned 24 hours a day, the watch tower hosts a rotation of Airmen who patiently follow protocol in full expectation that a threat could present itself at any time.

"You call possible threats into Control," said Crawford. "If someone acts suspicious, you call out your mobile unit."

The mobile PRT supports the watch tower crew by deploying to the perceived threat. In some cases it may be a stray animal or local national who needs to be ushered away from the gate. Occasionally, it may be an enemy looking for vulnerabilities or a way onto the base. That is when either nonlethal force, using specialized shotguns and sting grenades, or lethal force may be needed to protect Bagram Airfield inhabitants.

The watch tower team members not only coordinate security responses for the mobile unit, but they also walks their own patrols along the perimeter. PRTs check the fence to make sure nobody is trying to cut through it and to look for any discrepancies or suspicious activity.

If it becomes necessary, they react to anything which seems to threaten the security of the base.

"We have a method called shout, show, shove and shoot," said Crawford. "First you shout and warn them. Then you have to show them that you are escalating force. If they don't listen, you eventually have to shove. If they don't respond, you have authorization to shoot."

By standing in the tower or walking around the fence all day, these vigilant warriors produce a tremendous impact on base defense.

"Our presence keeps the enemy from doing anything," Crawford said. "They know that we are here; they know that we are out. Our people will walk outside on the catwalks with their weapons to show that we are paying attention ... that we are taking our job seriously.

Wyble said PRTs make sure everyone else on Bagram Airfield can do their jobs in peace. Crawford agreed.

"I am not sure if people understand how important this job is," she said. "It may look easy to sit in the tower ... but it is not easy to stay vigilant. You need to know your job for any situation at any time. You need to keep your calm if anything happens. You routinely do exercises to be on your game all the time.

"I like the thought that I am doing something to help protect a little part of my country that we hold within another country," Crawford said. "I feel good about protecting everybody that is serving on it and hope I help make them feel safe."