SOUTHWEST ASIA – With no one in sight, a trash truck pulls up to one of the many orange dumpsters throughout the base. As the driver and his crew dismount to empty the dumpster, so too does a crew of four airmen. However, before the dumpster can be emptied, these airmen jump into it and begin a process of what some might describe as a very dirty job.
“I found one” says an airman, “BINGO!” says the other. “Two more security violations, a boarding pass with all the personal information on it and a customs form complete with his home mailing address.”
The 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Escort Flight, Tango Element is led by, Staff Sgt. Willard Hughes, morning-shift and Staff Sgt. Anthony Espino, night-shift. These gentlemen lead a team of 18 airmen, whose primary duties are to dive into dumpsters in search of items containing information that could present a security risk to service members, their families and the base.
Tango Element or sometimes referred as the ‘Dumpster Divers’, recover an average of 400 operations security violations a week.
“Our mission is to look into the dumpsters, looking for OPSEC, critical information, maps, names, addresses and uniforms,” said Hughes. “Once we find these items, they are logged into the system, verified, we notify the unit’s first sergeant and create a weekly report which is sent to wing leadership.”
In accordance with AFCENT’s 100 percent shred policy, outlined in the AFI 10-701, 379th ECES will oversee and conduct the wing’s “dumpster dive” program. In total, the divers continuously inspect more than 150 dumpsters on a daily basis.
“Our job is to ensure the safety and security of not only our Air Force mission, but our coalition partners as well,” said Espino. “There are a lot of personal and work-related items found that can potentially lead to credit card fraud, identify theft and impede our mission capabilities.”
Master Sgt. Marcus Sidney, 379th ECES Wing Escort Program manager, validates and categorizes all items recovered by Tango Element.
The three categories are uniforms, rules information and critical information. However, the biggest OPSEC category violation is the rules information that contains privacy act and personal information (such as receipts, mailing labels, documents and pictures).
“During rotation season is when we see an influx,” said the 18-year veteran. “As a base, there were more than 1,900 OPSEC violations for the month of June.”
This year alone, there have been more than 9,000 OPSEC violations. In 2011 there were more than 22,000 total violations.
“We protect everyone from themselves. We’re here as a safety net to catch any sensitive items before it goes into the wrong hands,” said Airman 1st Class Othniel Lambert, 379th ECES Escort Flight.
The job itself can be a very dirty job, but Tango Element members protect everyone by getting inside and inspecting the dumpster every day looking for information that may compromise the security and safety of personnel and the base.
This work, Service members: Let's talk trash, by SSgt Sheila deVera, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.