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Airmen guard camp, detainees in Iraq

by Maj. Jerry Lobb
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

6/3/2005 - CAMP BUCCA, Iraq (AFPN) -- Airmen here are performing jobs normally reserved for deployed Soldiers. They are escorting patrols and convoys, helping provide force protection for an Army camp and guarding detainees.

More than 6,000 detainees are housed in the temporary internment facility here while awaiting legal proceedings under the new Iraqi government.

In October, Lt. Col. Joseph Romano was notified that Airmen would augment Soldiers guarding detainees.

At the time, the 586th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron commander said he thought they were to perform their duties at Abu Ghraib prison. However, when he and his small advance team arrived in Iraq in early November, they got their first inkling the mission might include operations here.

While Colonel Romano was in Iraq on the fact-finding tour, Air Force officials put together in 45 days a squadron of Airmen from 17 bases representing every major command in the Air Force. Nearly 400 security forces Airmen worldwide were picked to deploy and began their journeys to Fort Lewis, Wash., for a month of training.

There, they were divided into three flights, and each person received individual and team tactics training.

When the Airmen arrived in Iraq in late December, they were sent here. Soldiers flew the Airmen to Camp Bucca in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters -- 13 at a time -- for one of the largest helicopter moves since Vietnam, officials said.

The Airmen were originally assigned to the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. On March 1, the unit was redesignated the 586th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and aligned under the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing at a forward-deployed location outside Iraq.

A few days after their arrival here, Colonel Romano met with senior leaders in the region. During the meeting, they began discussing combat fire power.

"They were surprised we brought much more to the fight than they ever imagined," Colonel Romano said. "They recognized our toolbox is very well stocked with the skills needed to defend an air base, or camp for that matter. So in addition to detainee operations and convoy duties, they asked us to assume the force protection role as well.”

The Airmen, augmented by Soldiers, conduct patrols as far as six miles from the base, provide armed escorts for convoys and care, safety and security for 6,000 detainees, he said.

Colonel Romano said working in joint operations is not new to today's military. However, the frequency is increasing and will continue.

"Make no mistake regarding our commitment to making this work,” he said. “We are working side by side with the Army conducting both the detainee operations and force protection.”

"Our Air Force teammates bring to this critical mission a wealth of talent and capability," said Army Col. James Brown, 18th Military Police Brigade commander. "I have continually been impressed with the morale, discipline, standards and leadership (abilities) of our Air Force comrades."

Tech. Sgt. Tim Loveland, assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of operations at the main entrance into the detention facility, said he enjoys learning from and working with the Soldiers.

"We are performing an historic first mission with force protection and detainee operations," said the Airman deployed from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

Capt. Patrick Stephens, officer in charge of the guard force, said he is impressed with how the Airmen are handling a mission traditionally done by Soldiers.

"This is a good example of (an) expeditionary force in practice," said the Airman deployed from Little Rock AFB, Ark.

Besides Airmen, the Air Force sent new technology to the mission here.

"I didn't know some of this stuff existed," said Army Maj. Walter Patrick, 586th ESFS executive officer.

The Air Force’s tactical automated security system, which is a motion detection and video camera system, has prevented at least two escapes since it was installed less than two months ago, he said.

"We also began receiving new radios that not only give the troops the capability to talk to each other, but are also compatible with single-channel ground and air radios in vehicles and aircraft," Major Patrick said. "This radio fits in your hand and does so many things."

Major Patrick said the technology is great, but the most important thing the Airmen have brought to the fight is their force protection background. The security forces anti-terrorism and force protection practices have been responsible for infrastructure improvements here.

"We are a much harder target than we were before and the improvements are on-going," he said.

The Soldiers here are from artillery units with the Virginia and Texas National Guard. They focus on engaging larger units. The force protection Airmen defend against a small team attempting to penetrate base security. Combined, the group is capable of handling anything, Major Patrick said.

During their deployment here, the Airmen have been involved in a few major events.

In January and April, there were riots, and in March, Airmen and Soldiers prevented a mass escape when they discovered a 600-foot long tunnel leading out of the detention facility.

Airmen are scheduled to continue 179-day tours here for a total of two years. Then, the responsibility for the facilities is scheduled to be transferred to the Iraqis, officials said.

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