Airmen at Ali Base hand perimeter defense mission to Army

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Andrew Gates
  • 407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
After more than three years of protecting Ali Base, the Airmen of the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, known as the "Desert Hunters," turned over the perimeter defense mission to the Army's 528th Quartermaster Company on June 30.

The ceremony culminated a month of training by the Desert Hunters, bringing their Army counterparts up to speed on tactics, techniques and procedures.

This is the first time since Ali Base opened in March 2003 that Air Force security forces specialists have not provided perimeter security, said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Henson, 407th ESFS security forces manager.

"Several months ago, as we realized the Air Force would no longer have permanently assigned aircraft at Ali, we knew would need to hand over this defense mission to the Army," he said.

The beginning of the ceremony recognized the efforts of the 164 Soldiers who completed the training.

"They studied all aspects of integrated base defense for the first two weeks of training," Chief Henson said. "For the last two weeks, they worked side by side with our Airmen to get a feel for the area and get practical experience on defending the base. I am confident that these Soldiers are prepared to conduct defense of Ali Base."

Normally, the transfer of authority at a ceremony such as this is represented by the passing of a flag. In this instance, the outgoing Air Force commander unloaded his M-9 and relinquished the magazine, symbolizing the end of the active mission, while the assuming Army commander accepted and loaded the magazine.

"This is bittersweet for me," said Maj. Benito Barron, 407th ESFS commander. "The Desert Hunters had a mission that was meaningful; we had the opportunity to go outside the wire and make a difference. But I know that the legacy of the Desert Hunters will survive, because the Soldiers learned from the best and will do a great job protecting Ali Base."

Because the Army is taking over the perimeter defense mission, more than 170 Air Force security forces are leaving Ali -- either filling security positions around the theater or returning home. They were recognized at a ceremony July 1.

"Desert Hunters, this is one of the proudest moments of my career. Being able to award you the Iraq Campaign Medal is a moment I will always cherish. But please understand, this is not given to you, it is earned," Major Barron said.

"You have endured tremendous climatologically adverse conditions -- extreme heat, sand storms and high winds, to name a few. And you did it in full battle rattle and some of you were in the rolling ovens we call Humvees," the major said. "You can be proud of being a combat veteran -- proud that you are a Desert Hunter."