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Deployed Defenders: FAST keeps airlift lifeline alive

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Nicholas Rau
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

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

On a lonely, dirt runway in the “Middle of Nowhere, Afghanistan,” a C-130 Hercules’s engines whine while it waits to be unloaded. It carries with it life-sustaining supplies the Forward Operating Base has been running low on for a week now. It is chock full water, food, and ammunition; each one of these is crucial to the FOB’s survival. With supplies somewhat dwindling, the C-130 is a welcome sight.

But without the Fly Away Security Team securing the aircraft, that C-130 may have never made the resupply.

“We are the all-encompassing security team for the aircraft and the crew,” explained Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Whitney, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron FAST NCO in charge. “We are the first and last line of defense if something goes bad, both in the air and on the ground.”

The FAST is a unique element of the 455th ESFS that performs the duties of on-the-ground security of the aircraft, as well as cockpit denial in case of an attempted hijacking.  This unit of only about a dozen Airmen and NCOs, travels with every airlift operation in small teams to keep the aircraft safe.

With the sheer variety of the airlift missions in Afghanistan, the FAST is trained to support any scenario with which they are tasked.

“We are like the air marshal on a civilian plane, protecting the cockpit and aircrew,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Berogan, 455th ESFS FAST team lead. “We transport cargo, equipment, Afghan National Army soldiers, foreign citizens, distinguished visitors, and detainees. We have to be ready for anything.”

All FAST members are drawn from the Defender ranks, but even with all the training they already have, they come together 4 months prior to deployment to receive a unique skillset. They attend everything from survival training to a fast-pasted, scenario-based course focused on what they may encounter during their rotation. They do all this training together, building their team bonds before they even leave for Afghanistan.

“From the beginning we motivated each other, because when we are on the ground, it’s just you and your wingman,” said Whitney. “You have to look out for each other, so we started doing that in our pre-deployment training. There were times when we were physically and mentally tested, but we all stuck together, pulled through, and formed a team.”

Once the team arrived in theater, they were doing missions right away. Keeping the understanding why that mission is important is something that motivates the lowest ranking Airmen when it’s just them, their FAST leader, and an aircraft on a desolate runway.

“Our planes wouldn’t be able to fly to these locations without the security we provide on the ground,” said Airman 1st Class Seth Seward, 455th ESFS FAST Defender. “And if one of these planes breaks down out here, and maintenance needs to come and fix it, they know that we are here watching their backs.”

In addition to being a critical part of projecting combat air power, the FAST Defenders also gain a skillset that they can take back to their home stations, motivating and preparing the next wave of deploying Defenders.

“Over here, things are much faster then back state side,” explained Airman 1st Class Brendan Bartoo, 455th ESFS FAST Defender. “You are part of the fight, learning things you don’t get to back home. It makes you feel good that you are helping your country.”

With all this combined, the FAST secures the lifeline to daily operations and FOB resupplies. However, they always must remain focused on the task at hand, as one simple mistake could put the lives of everyone onboard at risk.

“I always tell my team to see the big mission, but focus on the little things,” said Whitney. “They need to do their job 100 percent to the standard every time. There are second and third order effects to combat airpower if we cannot do our job right. The little things will make the big mission happen.”

From that lonely runway, the C-130 takes off, heading to resupply another unit counting on them; ensuring the aircraft and its FAST keeps the lifeline strong for all those manning a post at the next “Middle of Nowhere.”