Security forces remain undaunted in England
By Staff Sgt. Jim Fisher, 457th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
/ Published March 20, 2003
ROYAL AIR FORCE FAIRFORD, England (AFPN) -- Through shifts of 13-plus hours, endless walks across the tarmac, cold wind and demonstrators lurking on the fence line, security forces here are undaunted.
RAF Fairford is home to a deployed force topping more than 1,000 military members and a number of B-52 Stratofortress bombers. They are positioned to support the war on terrorism and contingency operations. While safeguarding these activities, the security forces have encountered a unique form of antagonism, and answered with their "Defensor Fortis" brand of determination and success.
Senior Airman Andre May, a security forces airman here, peers across the airfield from his post guarding a B-52. He is working through another day shift. It would not surprise him to see someone walking along the fence, looking for a way to get through. A group of anti-war demonstrators has camped outside the installation for weeks. After numerous break-ins, incidents of vandalism and harassment, the troops are used to their presence and watch their every move.
"The difference in this assignment is that at other locations you prepare for and anticipate the threat. Here you actually see it," May said. "It makes you more vigilant. It changes the attitude you have coming to work."
Though local police have made numerous arrests, and the aircraft are locked down tight, the protesters' constant presence keeps the security enforcers' attention keenly focused. It has been that way since the Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996. Still another reminder came with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Our primary threat is not protesters. It's terrorism," said Master Sgt. Brian Stevenson, the security forces team's day-shift flight leader. "Anyone trying to enter our installation may be a terrorist," Stevenson said. "They could be trying to infiltrate along with the protesters and cause serious harm to our people and damage to our resources."
To safeguard the right of people to peacefully demonstrate according to local laws, a cooperative effort has emerged. Security forces are working in concert with law-enforcement officers from the Royal Air Force, British Ministry of Defense and local constabularies. Several of the agencies have brought dogs to bolster detection and apprehension capabilities. An intricate system of fencing and concertina wire is embedded to snag intruders.
"There are basically four layers of security," May explained. "They may get through the initial fence, but they won't make it much farther."
Thermal imaging systems, which sense anything giving off heat, including people, combine with working dogs and airmen in elevated observation posts. It all makes detection immediate and precise.
"They can see everything," Stevenson said. The huge multi-agency force, barbed wire and technology are backed by a precious intangible -- the determination of Air Force security forces.
"Everyone out here is very dedicated and knows we have a very important role," the flight leader said. "We're here so these B-52s are able to fly and put bombs on target. We're going to ensure that happens."
That process is something that unfolds over the course of duty. As May watches the "avenues of approach" an intruder might use to get to his aircraft, he processes various radio calls. He hears alerts of a man on the fence 100 yards away, and that the relief patrol is due in 45 minutes.
"Over the radio, there's always word of someone taking pictures, looking through the fence or getting caught in the barbed wire," said Airman Christopher Dietrich, another cop on patrol. "Whenever I hear something on the radio, I am a lot more alert. I'm looking around 360 degrees all the time," he said.
"It changed a lot of things," he said.
Since the current measures have been in place, the security forces have thwarted all attempts to enter restricted areas.
"We have worked very hard to provide a secure environment for air operations here," said Capt. Kris Zhea, security forces commander. "We have incorporated the manpower and resources of several agencies and woven them into one cohesive force, all with the same purpose -- to protect Air Force assets." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)