Fly Away teams provide remote security

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James A. Rush
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
A C-130 Hercules crew landing at a classified location does not find many, if any, familiar faces when they step off their aircraft. Airfield officials seem polite and perhaps even friendly, but the ring of local security workers outside the airplane is more interested in the Hercules and its crew than scanning the nearby tree line for threats. That leaves a lot of ground for two 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron airmen to cover.

Airlift missions from here to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other unnamed locations touch down in several sites where security is less than complete. To remain focused on their own mission, aircrews bring a small but capable security force along for the ride.

“We’re ready on the spur of a moment or the flick of a ‘send’ message. When security is inadequate or insufficient, we send a two-person team to provide security,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Brown, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 376th ESFS intelligence section. “It’s based on each mission. There could be no security at all, or there might be a hostile situation in the country.”

The pairs are called Fly Away teams. During Air Expeditionary Force Blue, a two-day intensive-training program was developed to better prepare them for their hazardous duty. Staff Sgt. Robert Rose is a graduate of Air Mobility Commands’ Raven training, an elite two-week course in small-unit security tactics for aircraft defense. Brown teaches nonlethal, empty-hand fighting; and Tech. Sgt. Ben Miranda, NCOIC of the military working-dog kennels, is an expert in baton techniques. The trio combined to form the Fly Away training program for security forces airmen here at the start of their deployment.

“We provide as many tools as possible before they go down range and potentially get into a confrontation,” Brown said.

As many as eight security forces airmen attend each class here; so far 20 have been trained. To qualify, applicants passed a fitness test based on the Army’s physical-training assessment. Equipment has been set aside for Fly Away team use such as binoculars, night-vision goggles and uniforms with no rank or name tags to ensure anonymity.

“The shorter training here is a snapshot of the actual Raven school,” Rose said. “We have tried to provide the best training program possible in the time allowed. Our primary focus is aircraft security, but we are also very concerned with providing additional training that increases our survival chances downrange.”

Surviving and providing security downrange is something troops chained to the base here could easily forget. The Fly Away teams however, know the threat is quite real, and they take it seriously, officials said.

“Force protection for the aircraft and its valuable crew are an integral part of the mission while operating downrange. The locations in which we land are extremely volatile, and security and force protection are paramount,” said Staff Sgt. Tonya Morrill, a Fly Away team member. “Aircraft and crew are viewed as a hard target instead of a soft target simply by our presence as a deterrent to any potential hostile threats. Most missions are uneventful, however (by our presence), the crew can focus on aircrew tasks, rather than be worried about the security of their aircraft. The worrying is left in our hands.”

The training program here has been so successful some aircrews assume the teams are actual Ravens. The security teams integrate with the aircrew to smoothly accomplish the mission, said Capt. Kris Norwood, a C-130 pilot.

“The team essentially becomes a part of our crew from the time we show up for the intel brief until we're back at the home unit,” Norwood said. “They participate in our briefings and have a plan of action should the aircraft or airfield come under attack. It's very much a ‘one team -- one fight’ type atmosphere when working with the Ravens, and it's always nice to know that someone is looking out for you as you're going about your business.”

Most missions are day trips to drop off supplies such as ammunition, food and water. However, mail is perhaps the most popular cargo.

“Some of these guys haven’t heard from home in a long time. It feels good to be a part of that and to see these aircrews risk their lives daily to get it done. I cannot say enough about the crews of these C-130s; true professionals,” Rose said. He also recalls a mission that changed his perspective.

“We dropped off important supplies that day, ammo and water, but … Special Forces (soldiers were) most glad to see a washer and dryer,” Rose said. “The crew took extra special care to make sure it was off safely and undamaged. It is amazing how much we take a washer and dryer for granted ... until we don’t have one for six months.”

An NCO leads each Fly Away team. Taskings come through Brown who in turn works around the unit’s regular duty schedule to assign flight missions. Intelligence and weather briefings are given to prepare the teams for their fights. Combining regular patrol duty here with the briefings, weapons issue and flight time adds up to some very long days where the only rest available comes on the Hercules jump seats. Fly Away team airmen are not counting hours however, they are counting opportunities, Rose said.

“I’ve (flown) into places where we are the only American faces that our deployed forces see,” he said.