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Security forces Airmen step outside the wire

by Master Sgt. Steve Horton
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/7/2007 - CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq (AFPN) -- Security forces Airmen here work outside the wire almost daily in an effort to help Iraqis establish a functioning, independent police force.

Assigned to the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Det. 6, these Airmen perform missions traditionally reserved for the Army, including convoying to Iraqi police headquarters in and around the city of Tikrit, and providing all of the security for their police transition teams, or PTTs.

As coalition forces and Iraqis fight the insurgency, Iraqi police stations are established in neighborhoods with police transition teams to help get the process started.

The 45-person detachment operates at the provincial and district levels of the Iraq police, while Army PTTs operate at the station level in the Salah ad Din province, an area that covers approximately 25,000 square kilometers and has more than one million citizens.

In order to accomplish their mission, the Airmen of Det. 6 do everything from mission planning and execution to vehicle maintenance.

Each team inspects every piece of their equipment and vehicles before heading into the briefing room to discuss the day's mission. During the brief, the teams talk about significant events in the area, what friendly forces will be operating around them, weather, truck actions and alignment, and rules for escalation of force.

"This is not something the Air Force has done before, but security forces Airmen bring the perfect skill-set to this mission," said Maj. Erik Bruce, the Det. 6 commander deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. "Our training and our professionalism allow us to be successful in this mission."

In preparation for the PTT mission, their training began at Fort Lewis, Wash. Security forces Airmen from five bases went through two months of Army training and then continued at Camp Beuring, Kuwait, with more convoy training.

"The teams got thrown together and within two days, we gelled," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Blackstone, the Det. 6 squad leader for the district PTT security team. "Everyone is very positive. I like the position I'm in ... taking a bunch of young men and women and helping them have a positive experience here."

Sergeant Blackstone, who served for 10 years in security forces before separating in 1998 and returning to service after the events of Sept. 11, sees firsthand what the young Airmen do every day.

"In one area, Al Alam, the Iraqi police weren't very well liked, and people were afraid of them," he said. "Now, after a little help and coaching from Airmen on the transition team, the IPs are learning and people are beginning to come around more."

The frequent trips outside the wire are not without hazards though. The team suffered the loss of Airman 1st Class Jason Nathan in June when the Humvee he was working as a gunner in struck an improvised explosive device. Another one of the team's Humvees also struck an IED July 29, but there were no injuries, only a severely damaged vehicle.

"The way the Airmen rebounded from Airman Nathan's death brought them even closer together as a team," said Capt. Greg Bodenstein of the 732nd ESFS Det. 6 and chief of the Tikrit District PTT deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. "We talk about it every day. It's woven into the fabric of our unit, but we continue with the mission."

Stepping up and continuing with the mission has become a way of life for the Det. 6 Airmen.

"The missions aren't very long, but the stress of constantly looking for anything out of the ordinary is almost overwhelming at times," said Sergeant Blackstone, a native of Vista, Calif., stationed at RAF Lakenheath. "When you get back (from a mission), you are mentally drained from staying so focused."

"It takes a lot of courage to do what they do," said Master Sgt. Killjan Anderson of the 732nd ESFS Det. 6 and assistant team chief for the provincial PTT and also deployed from RAF Lakenheath. "I'm amazed at some of the Airmen's capabilities. Seeing our young Air Force members getting praised by Army officers is impressive stuff. It's good to see them rise to the occasion."

As the Airmen push through their six-month deployment, they will continue their almost daily ventures outside the wire and onto the dangerous roads of Tikrit to complete their mission to help the Iraqi police force grow into a functioning and independent force.

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