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Escorts keep base safe


Release Date: 1/26/2004

by Senior Master Sgt. Gene LaDoucer 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

1/26/2004 - KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- When it comes down to getting the mission done, there are few things more valuable than a reliable force multiplier.

Each day dozens of mostly one-, two- and three-stripe airmen provide the multiple necessary to ensure base functions continue unimpeded. Wearing arm bands identifying them as "Force Protection," 72 airmen assigned to the 506th Air Expeditionary Group's escort flight and about 24 soldiers watch over 400 to 500 foreign laborers each day.

Although they oftentimes go unseen, people would quickly take notice if they were not available, said Master Sgt. Scott Vilders, security escort program manager. He said the primary duties of an escort are to watch over workers cleaning facilities, fixing vehicles, working construction projects, performing sanitation duties and similar functions.

"The escorts are responsible for getting local laborers on base and then ensuring they abide by the security rules of the installation," said Sergeant Vilders, who is deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy. "It's because of the escorts that base projects can be completed and Iraqis are afforded an opportunity to work on the base and rebuild a part of their country."

Because of their value to the base and the large number of contracts in progress, the pool of escorts doubled from the previous rotation. Still, on some days, escorts are not available for everyone wanting or needing access so a priority list is used to determine where escorts are needed most.

For their part, the escorts understand and appreciate their role in providing a level of security for the base. Many of them eagerly volunteered for the 120-day deployment and almost a third have asked to stay on for another rotation.

Senior Airman Andrew Gural said becoming an escort gave him the opportunity to "get into the field where things are going on." He said he enjoys being deployed and the job provides a break from the flightline where he would otherwise be working on B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

"Knowing that without escorts a lot of things on base wouldn't get done (makes the job rewarding)," said Airman Gural, who is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. "From getting contractors on base, to escorting people removing the trash and sewage, we're making it happen."

Senior Airman Donald Meck, who previously spent eight years in the Army's infantry, said the deployment has provided a nice change of pace from the additional duties he was performing at Fort Meade, Md., while waiting for his security clearance to be processed.

"Being an escort gives me the opportunity to interact with the locals," he said. "It provides a chance to get to know each other a little bit. That interaction allows the locals to see we are good people."

Airman Meck was quick to point out that familiarity does have its limitations. In training they are taught to treat the laborers with respect, but not to get too close to them personally.

"As much as you always want to trust them, you must realize they may have other intentions," he said. "You can never forget that the information you give them could be making it to the wrong people."

Sergeant Vilders said he is amazed at how the escorts, who come from more than 15 different careers fields, pull together to get the job done.

"They're doing an outstanding job," he said. "The skills they've brought from their career fields have created a synergistic affect that is more than anyone could have hoped for. They carry a lot of responsibility and they don't take their jobs lightly."

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