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Ring of Fire: Airmen secure largest, hottest runway in Iraq

By Senior Master Sgt. Larry A. Schneck , 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq / Air Component Coordination Element - Iraq

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AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (June 6, 2011) — Texas barriers, T-walls and concertina wire are part of the ingredients for a good mix of security at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. 

Airmen at this remote, desert runway in the western Al Anbar Province bake in 125 degrees under an unforgiving sun that would make a Texan sweat and an Arizonan seek shade.

“We’ve been going nonstop since taking over security and operation of the airfield in November 2009,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Shawn Goodlett, 532nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron commander, deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. “Our security forces flight Airmen have placed 18 miles of concertina wire around the flight line in ground as hard as Texas dirt.”

Colonel Goodlett is the senior airfield authority at the largest runway in Iraq. He has 33 security forces members who are part of his squadron.

“We have rebuilt almost every entry control point on the flight line,” described Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Robison, security forces flight operations superintendent and a native of Peoria, Ill., from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “Everybody’s been out there laying wire, from the commander on down.”

Before 2009 when the U.S. Air Force assumed security and operation of the Al Asad runway and U.S. Marines controlled Al Asad. The U.S. Army and Navy took over base-wide security and operations from the Marines in late 2009. 

With the change in control came a different view on providing security for air assets.

The Air Force implemented listening and observation posts and a long list of other improvements to force protection.

“The U.S. Army had a learning curve,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Teames, physical security NCO in charge also from Travis, on his fifth deployment. “They presume they’re going to lose a certain number of aircraft and equipment. For us, we provide security to lose zero resources and zero planes.”

The security forces Airmen sought to integrate their new security mindset into the outer perimeter security controlled by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry, 7th Division Soldiers. 

At the beginning of their deployment there was no relationship between the EOSS and Army provost marshal office. The Airmen decided this needed to change in order to reach the level of security needed for Air Force aircraft.

“We had no communication with them whatsoever,” recalled U.S. Air Force Maj. Andres Lopez, defense force commander from Miami, Fla. “We’ve done a lot of work to build integrated operations with the Army and Navy. Now, we are one team”

The security forces Airmen assigned to EOSS were the only organization on base to have the expertise to conduct many of the programs needed for safe airfield management. The immense size of the controlled movement area, or runway landing area, is 13,000 feet in length–large enough to land the space shuttle. With the largest CMA under their care, it required an ambitious program to get people trained and maintain safe operations. 

Security forces implemented a flight line driving program and taught classes in airfield familiarization to Navy SEALs as well as Soldiers.

“Ninety percent of the upgrades to force protection of the flight line have come through self-help initiatives,” said Major Lopez, deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan. “We have done this on our own.”

The improvements they’ve completed have included various additional areas, not just with concertina wire and increased vigilance at observation posts.

“Every Airman is a sensor to detect danger to Air Force aircraft, equipment and people,” said Sergeant Teames, a native of Roseville, Calif. “We upgraded the air traffic control tower with new immediate visual assessment equipment.”

The young men and women, many with fewer than two years on active duty, have placed speed bumps on access roads around the flight line, installed miles of wire and provide vigilance at manned observation posts looking for anything placing flight line operations at risk.

“Our main goal is to secure the flight line,” remarked U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Sean Bard, security forces patrolman, deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., who spends part of his duties working in an observation tower. “We provide internal base security. If we see suspicious activity, then we report it.”

The multiple layers of safety and security operating inside the base are synchronized with outside the wire perimeter security operated by the Army.

Airman 1st Class Madeline Kappes, a security forces member who’s deployed from Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, is another of the young Airmen with little time in the Air Force, but with big responsibilities. They are the people integrating internal security with the joint external forces provided by the Army. 

The force protection of a dusty runway in Iraq will continue to be the responsibility of security forces Airmen as they work closely inside a ring of security around the largest runway in the Iraqi desert.