News: Rain, snow, sun - mission still gets done
Story by Senior Airman Mindy Bloem
Whether acting as augmentees for the 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, supervising third country nationals and local nationals who work on base, or checking ID cards at the dining facility, Force Protection members are vital to getting the job done in a deployed environment.
At Kirkuk Regional Air Base, there are about 70 of these Airmen from the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.
"When FP members arrive at Kirkuk they find they do much more than escort duties," said Lt. Col. Bill Riehl, 506th ECES commander. "They are actually a force multiplier for security forces. With assignments ranging from entry Pass and ID to personnel, package and vehicle screening, the FPs are standing right alongside the SF personnel and are truly the first line of defense for the base."
Although their schedules and job duties vary, a typical day involves the FP member arriving at the armory at 5:30 a.m. to get a weapon and receive a guard mount briefing. This briefing provides daily intelligence information.
According to Senior Airman Ashley Bever, 506th ECES/FP, deployed from Hurlburt Field AFB, Fla., a day on the job is often packed with surprises.
"We are outside regardless of weather," she said. "I have stood at the DFAC in pouring down rain for four hours straight and heard people complain about the weather when they run into the dry facility to eat, and meanwhile I'm soaked. I've come home from work drenched in water, drenched in mud, drenched in sand. Even when the sandstorms hit, we're still out there."
Airman 1st Class Linette Witherspoon, another member of 506th ECES/FP, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, said some people don't appreciate the effort that goes into this type of job.
"Some people think we don't do anything," she said. "Our job may not be very physically demanding, but it's no less important than anyone else's job. It's more mental. You have to be on your toes because you still have to be watchful to protect the safety of people on base."
"Once LN and TCN personnel and equipment are cleared to enter the base, it's the FPs who provide the escort and over watch," Riehl said. "Without their diligence, we would be at a far greater risk of something bad happening here on the base."
Although the FP members play a critical role in security, they also have the opportunity for building Iraqi and American relations.
The two Airmen agree that getting to work closely with the Iraqi local nationals is a perk of the job they both enjoy.
"You get to learn so much about them and their culture," Witherspoon said. "I've learned they love singing and dancing and listening to music. Just talking to them is so interesting. They are genuinely smart and humble in their interaction."
"If you have a good rapport with them, your job is easier because there's mutual respect," Bever said. "If they're doing something they're not supposed to or that you don't think is right, you just ask them, 'hey, can you please not do that,' and you will have no problems."
The Airmen said this understanding is integral to the perceptions local Iraqis form about Americans.
"The way the people outside the gate look at us basically comes from the local nationals who work here," Bever said. "If we treat them well and with respect, they think that we're good and will tell that to everyone off base."
Witherspoon added, "We're with them every day, and we're the first people they really talk to on base. For the most part, most of them like America, and we're Americans so they seem to really like us. We try to build that trust, but we still have to be aware and focus on the job we're here to do."
She said this deployment provides her with a fresh experience as well as perspective.
"It feels good at the end of the day," she said. "I get to talk to people I've never talked to before. I get to learn about their culture, and not only that, I get to protect this base. I can say I've fulfilled the mission I came to complete."