Airmen achieve mission through friendship, relating to Afghans

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
  • 455th Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Security forces members assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron here, in addition to securing one of the most dangerous places on earth, are guarding one of the busiest pedestrian base entry gates in Afghanistan.

Each day, the Airmen assigned to guard the entry control point fight the constant struggle of staying motivated in the harsh, often sandy Afghanistan climate. But each day they brave the elements, they build trust between themselves and the more than 5,000 local-national employees who process the gate on their way to work at the installation.

For each of the team assigned to the ECP, the workday begins with guard mount around 3 a.m. During guard mount, team leaders like Master Sgt. Robert MaGee, a 17-year security forces Airman, about half-way through a six-month stint at Bagram Airfield, briefs the team on any events from the prior night's shift, as well as any intelligence or possible trends that were observed.

Luckily, for the husband and father of two, this -- his third deployment -- has been slightly easier for him because he has deployed with other security forces Airmen from his home unit, the 55th Security Forces Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

"It's hard being away from our families; really hard as the holidays pass by," he said. "But it helps to know some of the people you are working with day in and day out before getting here."

Most of the Airmen who make up the detail for the ECP have known each other since the end of last July when they started the deployment process by going to a two-month predeployment class at Fort Bliss, Texas. During those eight weeks, the Airmen were exposed to convoy training, reacting under fire and combat life-saver skills they now use regularly.

Today, the team, which has spent more time together than some families, tries to find normalcy in things like eating together at the dining facility or going to the gym before work, even though it cuts into sleep.

"Some of us get off work, grab dinner and head straight for the sack until the next shift," said Staff Sgt. Christine Sparks, a 455th ESFS Airman also deployed from Offutt AFB. "Others, like myself, get as much sleep as we can but are up by midnight to go to the gym, shower and make guard mount."

Working 12- to 14-hour days, minus guard mount, can be tiring on these professionals, but it is always the friends and moments that keep them going.

"I have made Facebook friends over here that I intend to keep," Sergeant Sparks said. "I love online ancestry searching, and have even found one of my roommates is a distant cousin. But what has made the impression on me are the moments. The other day I sat outside the gate and helped a young Afghan boy who broke his leg. I checked his injuries and kept him stable as my teammates kept watch over me. We are only a cog in a wheel here, but we are a very important cog in that wheel."

As a 12-hour shift winds down, these security forces Airmen end the day moving a concertina-wire alley Afghan employees must travel within the compound every day.

They can't be sure what the next day will bring, no one day is like another in Afghanistan, but they are sure they are doing their best to make a difference.

"You know it's hard to wake up and work those kinds of hours, but I think about my family back home; what they taught me," said Senior Airman Brandon Spears, a deployed security forces Airmen from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., serving his first deployment. "I read their letters every day; it keeps me motivated to know they are proud of me. And I have made friends here; mainly because we have something in common, like we grew up in the same bad area and overcame that environment."

As Airman Spears continued to talk about not allowing his past dictate his future, he related his success to the opportunity the Afghan people hold in their hands, and why he supports the mission they set out to accomplish each day at 3 a.m.

"Are we making a difference here? I say 'yes' and 'no,'" he said. "There are still Taliban out there, and we still have work to do, but every day when the locals come on to the base to work, they shake our hands and thank us, and that tells me we are making a difference in their future."