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Airmen provide FAST coverage

by Senior Airman Thomas Trower
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/5/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- Upon landing one morning at a remote location in Iraq, two specially trained Airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron took charge of security for a $30.1 million C-130 Hercules and its crew.

Senior Airmen Rosie Munoz and Michelle Kendall assume this responsibility on a regular basis at several austere locations throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and form the only all-female 332nd ESFS Fly Away Security Team at Joint Base Balad.

FASTs are required for any aircraft landing at airfields with limited ground security, said Tech. Sgt. Jason Canada, the NCO in charge of all 332nd ESFS FASTs, all of which are deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md. These Airmen are trained in antihijacking procedures and provide ground security to ensure no unauthorized individuals approach the aircraft.

When the mission is to strictly provide ground security, "the team doesn't do much during the flight but wait," said Airman Munoz, the fly away security leader. "But once we land, we're the first ones off the plane. The loadmaster opens the back door and we're out. We provide wingtip to wingtip security until the plane is ready to takeoff."

Airmen Kendall and Munoz are equipped with a survival kit of items such as night-vision equipment, Global Positioning System receivers, satellite phones and collapsible batons. The duo was paired together by chance and have flown together for more than five weeks. They fly almost every week on missions with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron that can last from 12 hours to overnight.

"The FAST on the aircraft provides an extra set of eyes," said Maj. Michael Emerson, a 777th EAS pilot who has flown on more than 30 missions with various FASTs. "They give the aircrew another level of comfort and allow us to focus on our jobs as aircrew."

"I love it," Airman Kendall said about being paired with another female. "We're the best, and we're really personable. We make a connection with the (aircrew) -- a friendship."

"(Airmen Kendall and Munoz) are easy to remember," said Major Emerson, an active duty pilot deployed from Wyoming Air National Guard's 30th Airlift Squadron. "They integrated into the crew very well, almost immediately.

"My initial opinion of them was very high," continued the native of Rock River, Wyo. "They were very professional, showed up on time -- geared up and ready to go."

"Without these Airmen on board, some missions can't fly," said Canada, a native of Layton, Utah, about all FASTs. "If for some reason all of our teams are already working, aircraft are diverted to other bases with teams available."

These Airmen need special skills to handle the situations they come across, Sergeant Canada said. Before a deployment, they must attend the Air Force Expeditionary Center's Fly Away Security Training Course at Fort Dix, N.J. This 15-day school is a condensed version of Phoenix Raven training, taught by Raven instructors. In the program, Airmen learn to provide protection for aircraft transiting airfields where security is unknown or additional measures are needed to counter local threats.

"Aircraft security is only one part of what we do," said Airman Munoz, who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and calls El Paso, Texas, home. "We also provide security for the movement of (distinguished visitors) and detainees."

Both Airmen Kendall and Munoz plan on making a career in Air Force security forces and agree that detainee missions are their favorite.

"There's always work to do. We always have to pay attention to what's happening," Airman Kendall said. "We're there for the safety of everyone onboard the aircraft, including the detainees themselves."

This protection is available at all times, regardless of the amount of notice teams receive. Missions can drop from two to 24 hours before flight, Sergeant Canada said.

"We maintain 24-hour standby and fly on average 10 to 15 missions a week," he said. "Our top priority is the safety of everyone on board the aircraft, as well as the aircraft itself. These Airmen are fully prepared to handle anything a mission can give them."

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