News: Getting an all access tour of Badging
Story by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
Whenever the Joint Area Support Group-Central's Badging Section is mentioned, someone within earshot invariably quotes a very well-known movie line.
Typically spoken enthusiastically and with a Mexican accent, the quote is usually met with half-hearted chuckles and barely cracked smiles from people who have heard it one too many times before.
Now imagine working in Badging and having to endure a daily dose of this dialogue. And to add insult to injury, the quote isn't even accurate, since people moving in and out of the International Zone do need their "stinkin' badges."
The Security Directorate's Badging Section is located at Ocean Cliffs, where most of its personnel work in containerized offices on the ground floor of a former parking garage. The low ceiling, tight walkways, and menagerie of service members, contractors and local nationals hustling and bustling from office to office makes Badging seem like a buzzing beehive.
"Badging is like Motor Vehicles," explained Staff Sgt. Jesus Barrio, waiting room non-commissioned officer in charge. "It's a constant barrage of [people without appointments], also 300 to 400 scheduled appointments a day, plus VIPs coming in."
Barrio and his fellow badgers process, on average, more than 3,700 badges per month, and also handle 3,000 badge applications, biometric appointments and biometric enrolments in that same time period.
"It gets very crazy," Barrio noted.
A visit to Badging easily validates Barrio's claim. Trying to enter the waiting room is like merging onto a busy freeway as employees, sponsors and applicants constantly flow in and out as they try to take care of business. Once in the room, one has to stake a claim to any piece of available real estate; it's often standing-room only, and those lucky enough to grab a seat are envied like a high-school quarterback dating the prom queen.
After wading through a sea of humanity, one reaches the desk where Barrio and his fellow service members review badge applications for accuracy.
"We have thousands and thousands of applications that we have to deal with," explained Airman 1st Class Yesenia Bray, who works for Barrio in the waiting room. "It's not as easy as it looks; we take this very seriously."
And serious business it is. The process of obtaining a badge begins when sponsors bring in new subjects to have their applications screened, receive a control number, and be entered into the system.
"Accuracy is most important," said Capt. Kristina Murphy-Brownlee, Badging executive officer. "It's really important what they put in because that's how we track it."
The next step is a visit to the waiting room for a final paperwork check before biometric screening.
"Once we receive the application, we enter it in the database," explained Peter Cubberly, tactical biometric operator. "The badge has to match the physical description of the applicant – hair color, eye color, height, weight."
"There is a series of pictures that we take, facial profiles to FBI standards that we use in the States. The same thing with fingerprints," he continued. "We also do the iris or retina scan. All this information goes into a shared database."
The biometric information can then be used to determine if the applicant has a biometric history on file, and if they have any kind of "derogatory" information listed. If the applicant "comes up hot," he or she is sent for further security screening. If the applicant is clean, his or her file then moves to Adjudication where background checks are conducted to make sure applicants are not "flagged" for any reason.
"If they are, we deny them a badge," said Sgt. Paul Burke, Badging adjudicator.
If the badge is denied, or if the applicant fails biometrics, he or she is sent for several more screenings. If applicants pass these rescreenings, they have a good shot at receiving a badge following a re-evaluation by Adjudication. If not, the badge is denied, as is the applicant's access to the IZ.
"The most important aspect to badging is to be fair and equitable to everyone," explained Maj. John Tumino, badging officer in charge. "The Iraqi laborer is as important as the Iraqi prime minister, and they deserve the same attention to detail and respect with regards to the badging process."
And if mistakes are made on badges, it's up to Sgt. 1st Class Barry Douglass, Badging NCOIC, to correct them.
"I'm basically the fix-all, end-all," he explained. "I deal with Iraqis, I deal with Americans, I deal with any nationality you can imagine; it's a very stressful job.
That stress almost brought Barrio to the breaking point this past November.
"Thanksgiving Day. We thought it was going to be easy, we thought we'd be out of here early – it was nuts," he said, the memory of being delayed from his holiday dinner still painful to recall.
"We processed about 500 appointments, plus some walk-ins," he continued. "It was hot; it didn't even feel like Thanksgiving. It was the craziest, worst day."
Concerns of Post-Turkey Stress Disorder aside, Barrio seems proud to be part of a process that helps keep the IZ safe and secure.
Even if it means he'll never be able to sit through The Treasure of the Sierra Madre again.