More than security: Airmen are last line of defense for aircraft, crew

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Landing an aircraft in a low-security environment or transporting potentially hostile personnel are just occupational hazards for combat aircrews.

To combat a large variety of threats, the Air Force has fly-away security teams, or FASTs.

FAST members are security forces Airmen trained to protect mobility aircraft and travel on planes such as C-17 Globemaster III's and C-130H Hercules here at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. They are the last line of defense for both the plane and aircrew.

To be qualified, these Airmen complete a week-long escape and conduct after capture course, followed by another week of fly-away security procedures and combative courses. These training courses ensure Airmen are prepared and proficient to conduct FAST missions.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Benitez is the NCO in charge of FAST under the 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and manages 18 Airmen who make up nine teams. He's deployed from Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, and is a 15-year veteran of security forces.

"We accompany aircraft to remote airfields or locations that don't have an adequate level of security," said the San Bernardino, California, native. "Teams can be either for ground security or flight deck denial to protect flight crews when transporting foreign nationals."

Flight deck denial is the defense of the cockpit of a plane to ensure safety of the aircrew during flight. This ensures that no matter who is transported, the flight remains secure until all personnel are unloaded.

Safety of the aircraft is paramount and these Airmen will defend against any threat at all costs.

"Once the plane lands, FAST Airmen are the first to exit and establish a defensive perimeter," Benitez said. "Because of the hostile environment, time on the ground is relatively brief and based on the amount of cargo and personnel to unload."

These Airmen, however, are much more than just security, providing necessary information to those higher up the chain.

"FAST is a huge resource for gathering intelligence and often they are the first on the ground," said Senior Master Sgt. Eric Price, a 386th ESFS superintendent. The Tiffin, Ohio, native deployed here from Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.

Typically, FAST members train together before deploying and already know each other when they get in theater. But this wasn't the case this time around, Price said.

"These Airmen have come together really quickly, sacrificing a lot of time off to always be ready at a moment's notice."

Senior Airman Wes Dworak is another member of FAST working with Benitez.

"Being on the FAST team, I feel that our job makes a difference to the mission," Dworak said. "Here I am a part of something bigger and to see what we do is rewarding."

Dworak is deployed here from the 81st SFS, at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. There he is a security forces patrolman and used to a different working environment than that of the 386th ESFS.

"One of the biggest struggles coming here was change,” he said. “The mission was different, the pace was faster, and you are working with new people from all over the Air Force. Though it took time, we bonded, strengthening us as a team to work together and accomplish the mission."