Deployed Defenders: SF Airmen fill critical roles to ensure combat airpower

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --

Editor’s Note: This article is first part of the Deployed Defenders series that takes a closer look at the function of Air Force Security Forces in Afghanistan.

One squadron, with less than 100 Defenders, is responsible for the protection of thousands of Airmen and billions of dollars of equipment.

While it may seem daunting, it’s a job the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron does with pride every day.

“Simply put, we are the first and last line of defense for combat airpower in Afghanistan,” said Maj. Met Berisha, 455th ESFS commander. “Our purpose is to ensure that the Air Force can project combat airpower for the nation.”

However, the strategic requirements to protect the base and keep airpower flying are not as straightforward. In order to maintain security of people and assets, the Defenders mission is broken down into four major and distinct sections: internal and external security, fly away security teams, Task Force Crimson, and the Check Six Program.


Internal and External Security

This is the function that most people are familiar with and how they normally interact with Defenders.  The 455th ESFS is responsible for the safety, security and integrity of the flightline and the aircraft at Bagram. They also man the entry control points, check access authorizations and deny entrance to those wishing to cause harm to the Air Force with ready Quick Response Forces. Finally, they manage all the equipment that detects perimeter intrusion, such as cutting a fence, along the largest Tactical Automatic Security System field in the Air Force. 

The starkest realization of the importance of Defenders comes when it’s imagined what the Air Force would look like if they vanished.

“Airpower would cease to exist,” explained Berisha, “And you wouldn’t be able to launch, recover or generate sorties. We secure the sites so that aircraft can take the fight to the enemy.”

Fly Away Security Team

When an aircraft has to land in austere conditions away from a secured flightline in order to deliver supplies, ammunition or highly-trained personnel; it needs a team to set up a perimeter and protect it. This is where the FAST comes in, and they can run on, average, three to four sorties per day.

“These are specialized teams that fly to several different Forward Operating Bases to protect the aircraft and provide cockpit denial if necessary,” stated Berisha. “They can fly hours at a time and when they get off the plane, they have to be ready for game time. They are integral to the counter terrorism mission.”

Task Force Crimson

This function has the unique responsibility of patrolling with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to secure the battlespace immediately outside the installation.  They assist in the turn in of locally-recovered munitions, maintain constant awareness of possible threats, and provide a safe zone for key-leader engagements.

Check Six Program

The last major focus of the 455th ESFS is making sure that every Airman is trained to protect themselves against an insider threat.  A Defender cannot be assigned to each person in Afghanistan, so the Check Six Program is designed to give servicemembers of all branches the weapons training, situational awareness, and combative techniques to react in the event of hostilities.  Since the program’s inception in 2012, there have been no active shooter cases on an airbase in Afghanistan.


However, all of these missions could not be accomplished without the total force team that makes up the 455th ESFS. Currently, the squadron is comprised of Active Duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve members from 18 different bases.

“I have been in the service for 23 years, and I have never seen Airman from this many bases come together flawlessly in less than two months,” said Chief Master Sgt. Doug Rhodes, 455th ESFS security forces manager. “Everyone is very motivated and knows what the mission is and why they are here.”

For the younger Airmen assigned to the unit, this has been a unique opportunity to practice first hand techniques outlined in their Career Development Courses.

“With upgrade training, junior Airmen get to apply what they read about in a combat zone,” explained Rhodes. “They get to take away key concepts and apply them to practical situations while responding to real-world events. “

From training new Airmen, to acquiring upgrades for future security features, the 455th is prepared for whatever mission they are tasked.

“No one here takes force protection for granted,” said Berisha. “We are building relationships with our NATO allies, redesigning how we defend air bases with less manpower, and aggressively acquiring the best new equipment so future Defenders can better protect the base. 

“Because no matter what the future holds, Defenders will always be vital to ensuring the projection combat airpower,” he said.