THE MAGAZINE

This Base is Covered

By Matthew Harwood

 

 
Entering the Facility
 
Andrews is encompassed by fencing and all gates are staffed around the clock. But prior to 9-11, Rector says, any vehicle with a Department of Defense (DoD) sticker on its windshield would be waved through, no questions asked. The terrorist attack changed all that. Now, vehicles must stop as they go through the tollbooth-like lanes, and every person inside must submit an ID, which is scanned and cleared through a database in real time to make sure none produce a “hit” of a name on a watchlist.
 
Currently, the gates are staffed by private contract security provided by Pinkerton Government Services. That will change at the end of 2012 when the Pinkerton contract expires and the government stops outsourcing that function.
 
Guards conduct random antiterrorism searches of entering vehicles. Anyone can be selected, regardless of whether the person is a handyman or has stars on his shoulder. “Occasionally, I get the disgruntled colonel that calls because he got stopped and searched,” Rector attests.
 
Security Management was given a demonstration of how the search is carried out. There are two officers involved; one of the security guards asks the driver to cut the ignition and to step out and away from the car, while the other guard shadows the driver just in case he or she is a genuine threat. The first guard then proceeds to inspect the interior and exterior of the vehicle, including using a search mirror for the undercarriage.
 
Pinkerton Shift Manager Sgt. Lester Smith explains that his guards are trained to search for all contraband items like explosives, guns, knives, and drugs. Their searches usually don’t uncover anything more than drugs, however.
“Usually it’s civilian contractors coming to work on the base, occasionally retirees,” says Rector. “Very rarely will it be a military person.”
 
When SFG personnel are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they may do similar, albeit much more intensive, searches at installations there. But in that case, the main focus is on preventing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and hostiles from making it onto the base.
 
When the Pinkerton positions are brought in-house, they won’t be filled by the SFG or other active-duty military. “We’re going to civilianize,” says Rector, which means they will be nonmilitary positions within the DoD.
 
Rector says that there has been a continuing push to reduce the number of contractors employed in the DoD as Congress receives more and more contracting bills from the war on terrorism. But military units are stretched thin, so “We use civilians in those areas where it makes good sense and where it can free up a military member to go take the fight to the enemy,” Rector explains.
 
Flight Line
 
An important responsibility of the security forces is to protect the flight line—or the portions of Andrews’ air field, including its two runways, where aircraft are parked and serviced and land and takeoff. To help protect this area from intruders and adversaries, the SFG has woven together a web of security technologies—some acknowledged and some not revealed—that Rector says is part of why the 11th SFG is “a model for a lot of other installations.”
 
The first line of defense for the flight line is a perimeter fence. Military personnel who are authorized to access the flight line get issued a proximity access card that they must use to open the entrance gate. The entrance also has video and audio technology so that if there’s a problem, it’s possible to see and communicate with whoever is trying to gain entry. The flight line is further protected by motion detection video cameras and ground-based radar that are monitored at a command center.
 
The final layer of protection is presented by the security force members patrolling the flight line. They work in pairs that are designated as either internal or external response teams, with the external teams having the authority to pursue a threat beyond the fence.
 
Each two-person security team is charged with tactically responding to any potential threat in their geographic area of responsibility. Their primary mission is to prevent an intruder from “breaking red,” or entering the restricted area. The phrase arises from the fact that there is a red border line painted around the aircraft parking area. If someone without authorization steps over that line outside of a designated entry area, airmen challenge them.
 
I talked with one team—Staff Sgt. Nahteas Murphy and Senior Airman Alonzo Allen—as they stood on the line dressed in full “battle rattle,” which includes a bulky armor-plated vest, helmet, and their weaponry. To fullfill their mission, Murphy and Allen aren’t alone on the flight line. “We have help to see what we can’t see out here,” says Murphy, referencing the various security technology tools monitored by the base’s command center.
 
When alarms get tripped, a command center controller will radio the security team to respond after obtaining a visual assessment. If an intruder has entered a restricted area, the controller will track his movements and guide the security team to his location. We saw how the system worked when our own presence drew some attention from the control center, which caused them to make sure that we had the proper authorization to be there.
 
Usually intruders present no threat and are detained and transported to the base’s Defense Operations Center. However, if an intruder turns hostile and poses a direct threat to the aircraft or other resources, security response teams are authorized to use deadly force, Rector says.
 

 

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