Senior Airman Thaddeus Kloss checks and collects items that look sensitive in nature during a trash pickup Feb. 26 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Airman Kloss performs an overwatch of off-base contract workers ensuring the security of the area and the safety of servicemembers on the base. Airman Kloss is a 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron third country national escort. He hails from Brunswick, Maine, and is deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Satran)
SOUTHWEST ASIA —
Airmen with the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's Escort Flight keep a vigilant eye throughout the base interior 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect the base's operational security and everyone's safety.
The flight of more than 180 Airmen preserve security by escorting third-country nationals, commonly called TCNs, who perform various construction, cleaning, cooking and other services on base.
Before observing their first TCN, all escorts are trained on what to look for, what comprises suspicious activity and what to do if any violations are discovered. These violations include possession of complete mailing addresses, copies of ID cards, uniforms, discarded external hard drives and even a fully operational laptop once, said Master Sgt. Troy Eastman, the flight's only security forces member and force protection liaison. Deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, he conducts the initial training for the escort program when the Airmen first arrive.
"Our Airmen are continuously finding stuff, even getting dirty going through dumpsters before sanitation TCNs empty them," Sergeant Eastman said. "They do an outstanding job of safeguarding the base and personnel from the internal threat."
Since January, Airmen working escort duty have caught more than 500 security violations, preventing these items being used to damage the integrity of the base.
Contract-hired TCNs are comparable to the work force in the local community, said Senior Master Sgt. James Fair, the flight superintendent who is deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
"We have to be vigilant to the fact that they can be paid a lot more for Information about the base and coalition forces by organizations that want to do the United States and our allies harm," Sergeant Fair said.
The escort flight supports a weekly schedule of 37,000 man-hours, supervising nearly 2,000 TCNs at the 80 different work sites. The work sites encompass current contracts estimated around $165 million, said Sergeant Fair, a native of Cibolo, Texas.
This escort process starts with a handoff from security forces Airmen who conduct an initial security inspection of all TCNs entering the base. From then on, Escorts observe TCNs to and from job sites and while they work until the end of the TCN's shifts. When the shift is complete, escorts again inspect TCNs and their belongings to stop any possible security violation before they leave the base.
When a TCN violates OPSEC rules, they are detained until a security forces and Air Force Office of Special Investigations representatives can question them. Depending on the violation, a TCN can have his badge and base privileges revoked and be turned over to local officials who may deport them, Sergeant Fair said.
The Air Force has no escort specialty, and the flight currently consists of 76 different career fields. Each functional career field brings with it their own background of leadership and standards. This mix makes for many leadership and followership challenges.
"Escorts watch out for operational security violations continuously. In the wrong hands, the right information can be detrimental to the U.S. and put lives in danger," said Staff Sgt. Pricilla Chavez, who oversees many of the base's work sites, experiences these challenges daily and understands why she must keep her standards high.
With escorts and TCNs working at almost every location on base, she trains her Airmen to take pride in what they do and to take the job seriously while still having fun.
"I'm pretty straight across the board with my standards. I correct who needs correcting and get their focus back on security and accountability," Sergeant Chavez said.
"I tell my Airmen you have to go back to basics and remember your customs and courtesies. You have to pay attention to what you are doing," said the native of Ashford, Wash., who is deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "We have some very good Airmen."
Security isn't the only concern for escorts while watching the TCNs going about their work. The TCNs come from many countries and have just as much diverse experience as their escorts. This has presented some safety concerns at the job sites.
"The TCNs have different safety standards than we do. As escorts, we also provide first response actions for accidents on site, stabilizing the situation until medical personnel can arrive," said Senior Airman Chris Boatright, an escort who is deployed from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
The Airmen have stayed motivated while performing a job that can be monotonous day after day watching other people work outside in the heat. However, the Airmen understand the seriousness of their mission, Sergeant Fair said.
"The Airmen have pulled together beyond my expectations by staying vigilant. I am proud to say we are the 'eyes and ears' of the base," Sergeant Fair said.