Air Force Base Defenders Upgrade Weapons, Training and Fitness Standards to Meet Near-Peer Threats
By: Kyle Rempfer, Air Force Times, 26 November 2018

Airmen survey the area during a patrol outside Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, which features complex, layered defenses. The Air Force is intent on hardening its bases around the world and preparing to protect forward-deployed squadrons in the event of a war with Russia or China. (Senior Airman Sheila deVera/Air Force)


Big changes are coming to the Air Force’s base defenders.

The service’s ability to gain air superiority over a peer adversary could soon hinge on a career field that — like the rest of the U.S. military — has become accustomed to primarily combating violent extremism.

But if a conflict with Russia or China breaks out, the Air Force will not be able to rely solely on the other services' ground combat units to protect its assets. Instead, security forces airmen will have to pick up the slack in safeguarding forward-deployed squadrons, and if necessary, repelling major assaults from outside the wire.

To prepare them for such a responsibility, Air Force leadership is pushing new resources, training guidelines and physical assessments out to its defenders.

As a land-based air component, you got to fight from the base,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein told Air Force Times. “We have to fight and secure a base before we can get the bombers to where they need to go.”

It’s a lesson Goldfein internalized from his time as the air component commander at U.S. Central Command. One day, he pulled his staff into his office to remind them that while the day-to-day battles might seem far from major air hubs like Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, or Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the threat to airfield defenses was still very real.

“We’re at war against a determined enemy and we may lose airplanes. We may lose airmen. It’s tragic, but it happens,” Goldfein told his commanders. “But here’s what we’re not going to do: We’re not going to have someone get inside our perimeters and wreak havoc on the inside of our base because we weren’t properly defending it.”

In an era of great-power competition, that threat is only magnified. Air Force squadrons may be operating more like the highly mobile flying circuses of World War I, than the stationary airfields of the Global War on Terror.

To accompany that change in operations, units need to be self-sufficient, self-sustaining and self-defending.

Airmen with the 673rd Security Forces Squadron, participate in shoot move and communicate drills at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Oct. 24. (Jamal Wilson/Air Force)



‘Year of the Defender’

Visitors to Bagram and Kandahar airfields in Afghanistan will notice that the operations centers there oversee a slew of layered defenses — everything from giant blimps with cameras, to security forces airmen on patrol to counter-rocket and mortar systems — which feed into a web of security that protects aircrew flying in and out.

“What we’ve done there is hardened the environment. In attacking the base, you have to get through a lot of layers before you even get to the fence line," Goldfein said. “I’m looking to establish a very similar environment everywhere."

“I’m expecting that if an airman wears a [defender’s] beret, they’re the best in the business,” Goldfein said.

The Air Force is beginning to put a lot of resources into security forces, including upgraded kit and weapons, more practical physical fitness standards and better training under stressful conditions.

"And so we’ve called this the ‘Year of the Defender,’ " Goldfein said.

The Air Force fields roughly 25,000 active-duty security forces airmen, with another 13,000 in the Air National Guard and Reserve components. The total force is about 38,000 airmen — roughly 98 percent of whom are enlisted.


Brig. Gen. Andrea Tullos, director of Security Forces, speaks with base defenders at Minot AFB, N.D., in 2016. “I like to say we bring a “lot of bang for the buck,” she said.



“We size up very similar to the Army’s lightest of the light infantry," said Brig. Gen. Andrea Tullos, the Air Force’s “top cop” and a career security forces officer.

“We have strong expeditionary roots,” she said. "We’re somewhat of a blend between a light infantry unit and a military police company, and we’re not as expensive as a lot of the Air Force’s weapon systems, so I like to say we bring a lot of bang for the buck.”

The service has been working their Year of the Defender initiatives since the 2018 National Defense Strategy came out Jan. 19, highlighting peer adversaries as the most pressing concern for the Pentagon, said Tullos.

“Now, we have to think about defending our bases in the homeland in the same manner that we defend our bases overseas,” she added. “That has been a significant driver for what we’ve done this year so far and what we will continue to do.”

One big initiative has been the modernization of security forces' weapons.

Increased Lethality

Tullos explained that the Air Force is revamping the weapons load-out security forces airmen carry on patrol, largely mirroring changes the Army is undertaking for its soldiers.

“The Air Force has given us funds to accelerate those plans," Tullos said. "That includes our rifle, our handgun, our precision engagement rifle, the optical systems on rifles and grenade launchers.”

Security forces are acquiring the M-18 handgun, a compact version of Sig Sauer’s M-17, which chambers 9 mm ammunition.

Defender airmen are also receiving upgraded M4A1 rifles with a different rail system, a floating barrel and better optics. That way they can transition from the M68 Close Combat Optic to the ACOG system.

That’s a rifle, handgun and optic the Army also uses, increasing the two services' compatibility.

The Air Force is also waiting on testing to finish on their new precision engagement rifle: the M110A1 Semi-Automatic Sniper System.

‘The homeland is no longer a sanctuary’ amid rising near-peer threats, NORTHCOM commander says

“We don’t have a significant inventory of those rifles, because we don’t have a sniper mission, but we do have a counter-sniper mission," Tullos said. "It’s largely in the nuclear enterprise as well as the mission sets you’ll see at bases like Andrews [AFB] outside Washington, D.C.”

The Air Force is also going to acquire the M320 grenade launcher to replace its M203 system. The M320 provides a stand-alone launcher, rather the M203, which is attached to a rifle.

Flipping the Script

New weapons are nothing without better training, however.

“I always say to Goldfein that if I had one more dollar to spend, I’d spend it on training," Tullos said. "You can have the best equipment in the world, but if the airmen don’t know how to effectively utilize it, we could still not succeed.”

Security forces' greatest achievement to date, Tullos said, has been flipping their training model.

“What used to be called predeployment training has become what we call sustainment training,” she said.

Rather than only training up defenders prior to a deployment, the airmen are constantly rotated through training cycles while stateside. Not only does this increase the readiness of stateside units, but it helps give training options for airmen who are considered “deployed-in-place."

“We’re now sending every airman to training at a readiness training center, and ours is at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the training is tailored to the rank and skill-level," Tullos said. "Our NCOs and senior NCOs are getting appropriate troop-leading procedures and maneuver on a scale you would expect an NCO to be doing. Meanwhile, our airmen are doing fire-team level tasks and then they both come together during that training for dismounted and mounted operations so it all comes together.”



 An airman with the 841st Missile Security Forces Squadron takes cover during a training scenario June 24 at Fort Harrison, Montana. (Airman 1st Class Tristan Truesdell/Air Force)



“And they’re getting that episodically in their careers, on a four-year timeline, but if you promote to a new rank and skill-level, we’re going to send you back to training," she added.

The Air Force is only six months into the new model, but so far, about 2,500 security forces airmen have been trained this year. The goal for next year is to get about 5,000 through the training pipeline.

At Home on the Range

The principle line of effort is training, and that starts with technical school.

There, future defenders are now handling their weapons six times more than before the changes were instituted, as well as receiving weapons simulations to learn fundamentals prior to range time.

I’m not going to be happy until our defenders are checking out their weapons before a patrol and going to a range and firing them not once a year, not twice a year, but every day," Goldfein said, "because their weapons need to be sighted and effective, and our airmen need to be confident in their weapon to defend the base.”

The Air Force has also introduced “shoot, move, communicate” training at security forces squadrons, which involves die-cartridges and doesn’t have to be conducted on a firing range.

That enables all NCOs to easily schedule time to train their team, even when ranges aren’t available.

“We’re also looking at getting our airmen to full-distance ranges more frequently,” Tullos said.

Sometimes that will involve TDY trips, because the Army tends to have more full-distance ranges than the Air Force.



A security team watches over a C-130J in May 2017 during a cargo mission in Somalia in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. (Master Sgt. Russ Scalf/Air Force)



The Air Force has also resurrected the Defender Challenge, a competition of ground combat skills that was held in San Antonio in September for the first time in 15 years.

“It lets us validate our training, evaluate gaps and go back to change training," Tullos said.

One take-away from September: The marksmanship of each defender went down significantly when the airmen were placed under physical stress like carrying combat loads and receiving simulated contact from enemy forces for distances greater than 200 meters.

That’s related to their discomfort with the system at those distances, so security forces plans to adjust training to reflect that need.

Better, Stronger, Faster

The Air Force also plans to introduce a functional fitness assessment for security forces.

Tullos' department is working with the Air Force Personnel Center and some human performance experts to determine the optimal fitness levels and testing options to assess its airmen.

Security Forces is still determining which exercises will be involved in their new functional fitness test. When they decide, it will take roughly a year of the squadrons implementing those movements to collect enough data to determine what the standards should be.

However, the test will involve things like carrying a load over distance, a dummy drag or dummy carry, moving with a standard combat load up stairs, or even dead lifts.

“Those are movements the performance experts are looking at to see what correlates best with what we do on the job," Tullos said. “Within a two-year timeframe, we expect that we’ll have that approved as our career field fitness test. So that will replace the Air Force fitness test.”

Tullos said it will look similar to what the Army is currently implementing with its new Combat Fitness Test.

Hardening the Base

Finally, the Air Force is undergoing changes to ensure that bases are better defended, both at home and abroad.

Eventually, the service would like to evolve to a point where there is no difference between the force downrange, and the one in garrison, according to Goldfein.

“We would like to bring the communications systems we use when deployed into our units at home,” Tullos said. “We’re going to roll that out at Malmstrom [Air Force Base] and start testing that in April.”

That Will Be a Full Spectrum Communications System


Airmen from the 822 Base Defense Squadron out of Moody, Georgia, stand guard on Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, after Hurricane Michael swept the area Oct. 20. (Senior Airman Sean Carnes/Air Force)


Tullos expects defenders to eventually have an unclassified portable electronic notebook with them on patrol to access maps and applications that help them plan routes, assess threats and drop pins on suspect activity.

“When we roll out the joint light tactical vehicle — which is our next vehicle system — they’ll have a supportable device receiving downlinks from overhead imagery," Tullos said.

“Our convoys will have the ability to see over the horizon and if they have to go encrypted or secure, they can do so,” she added. "They will be able to bounce back to a commercial backbone, a military backbone or a satellite communication.”

Those are the kinds of capabilities security forces airmen have downrange, but when they come back stateside, they are forced to use an entirely different system.

“We’re at a point where that no longer makes sense — both from the training angle and the costs associated with having two separate communication systems, but also from the standpoint that we can no longer say when we’ll need those increased capabilities," Tullos said.

No one knows how the great power competition will play out in the years ahead. But whatever comes, the Air Force’s base defenders aim to be ready.


Kyle Rempfer is the Early Bird Brief Editor for Military Times and a former Air Force combat controller.

Col (ret) Nicholas (Nick) Keck passed on 23 November 2018. He served 30 years on active duty from 1959-1989 as a Provost Marshal; Minuteman Missile Senior Standardization Crew member, 4-time Squadron Commander (last as 89th SPS responsible for Presidential Aircraft security); Director of Resources Management at 12AF, HQ TAC, and HQ USAF; RAF Regiment Exchange Officer; Air War College Student; Professor of Aerospace Sciences, Kent State Univ; Chief Security Police, HQ Air Training Command and served a tour in Vietnam and Thailand. Nick was a Founding and Life Member of AFSFA. He edited Tiger Flight for 15 years, served on the Board of Directors for two terms, was the AFSFA Secretary and the first inductee into the AFSFA Hall of Fame in 2008 and the only active duty member present at the founding of our Association. Nick’s contagious smile and laugh and candor will be sorely missed. Nick is survived by his wife Felice and their two children, Kristopher and Nicole. 

Air Force Extends High Year of Tenure for E-4s Through E-6s
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs / Published October 22, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- The Air Force is extending the high year of tenure for senior airmen through technical sergeants beginning Feb. 1, 2019.

The memo, signed Oct. 18, 2018, extends the high year of tenure from eight to 10 years for senior airmen, from 15 to 20 years for staff sergeants and from 20 to 22 years for technical sergeants.

Airmen in these ranks who reach their HYT prior to Feb. 1, 2019, or those who are currently approved for separation or retirement under the previous HYT limits, may submit a request to extend their HYT beginning Oct. 24 to the updated limit if government funds have not been expended on their separation or retirement, such as moving expenses.

“This is just one of the ways we are working to manage the talent we currently have,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. “Adjusting the high year of tenure policy will allow us to keep Airmen we’ve trained and developed over the course of their careers, and allow them to continue to serve their nation to the best of their ability and pay it forward, by training the next generation of Airmen who are right behind them.”

The Air Force will use the flexibility to retain talented mid-tier Airmen to provide training, leadership and mentoring to the growing number of accessions who are joining the force.

“As we grow the force, we need to retain technically skilled experts across our ranks,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services. “By extending high year of tenure, we’re able to leverage our talented, seasoned professionals to train, develop, and lead new Airmen to accomplish current and future mission requirements.”

The Air Force will consider using career job reservations and noncommissioned officer retraining programs as needed to ensure that its growth is deliberately targeted to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy.

“These force-shaping tools are critical to ensuring the investment we’ve made in enhancing our Airmen’s technical skills are leveraged and allocated across the force deliberately,” said Kelly.

Senior airmen through technical sergeants with an HYT of Feb 1, 2019, and later, will automatically have their HYT adjusted by AFPC in accordance with this policy. Those hitting HYT prior to Feb. 1 can request an extension via the virtual manpower and personnel flight.

“Service in the Air Force is an honor, not a right or an entitlement,” Wright said. “Supervisors and commanders will continue to ensure that proper conduct and mission performance are the primary factors in determining continued service.”

Shining a Spotlight on the 2018 Outstanding Airmen of the Year

Air Force Magazine Daily Report, 17 November 2018

Brian Everstine, Steve Hirsch, Amy McCullough, and Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory


The Air Force Association will recognize the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2018 on Sept. 17, during the opening night of its Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md. A total of 36 nominees were considered, and an Air Force selection board chose the 12 winners on the basis of leadership, job performance, and personal achievement. The Outstanding Airman of the Year program debuted at AFA's 10th annual National Convention in 1956, and the association has continued to shine a spotlight on the outstanding airmen from each major command every year since.



TSgt. April A. Spilde

Flight Chief/Security Forces Craftsman

30th Security Forces Squadron, Vandenberg AFB, CA

Home of Record: Minneapolis, MN


Sgt. April Spilde was instrumental to the Total Force success of the 58th Presidential Inauguration, dedicating 80 hours to training 90 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen as Ceremonial Guardsmen with the USAF Honor Guard. Spilde led a three-person mobile training team to the 156th Airlift Wing at Air Base Muniz, Puerto Rico, and established a fully funded base honor guard program including a budget increase of $10,000. As a Security Forces flight chief, Spilde led 135 airmen securing $10.2 billion in space launch assets and managed the flight schedule, logistics, and daily police operations defending 999 family houses, 2,100 facilities, and 15,000 personnel across a 99,000-acre installation. Spilde masterfully completed nine college classes and graduated cum laude, earning her bachelor’s degree in English. She graduated from the NCO Academy and was the recipient of the John L. Levitow leadership awards.





Sourced by: AFIMSC/PA

1st: U.S. Pacific Air Forces
2nd: Air Combat Command
3rd: Air Force Materiel Command

SADLER CUP (Dismounted Ops)
1st: AMC
2nd: PACAF
3rd: ANG

1st: PACAF
2nd: ACC
3rd: AFSPC


1st: SST Benjamin Rodriguez, AFDW
2nd: SRA David Hightower, AETC
3rd: A1C Curtis Covington, PACAF

Winner: LCPL Adam Butler, RAF Regiment
Nominated: SSGT Oscar Gomez, PACAF
Nominated: OR-6 Robin Schwab, German AF

1st: German AF
2nd: ACC
3rd: AMC

Defender Challenge Cup (Defender Challenge 2018 Champion).  First place team receives a "traveling" trophy; this trophy must be returned prior to the next competition.  First, second, and third place teams will receive a plaque or equivalent.  First, second, and third place team members will receive medals. Overall team champion for the competition.

Coleman Cup (Combat Weapons Challenge).  First place team receives a "traveling" Coleman Cup; this trophy must be returned prior to the next competition.  First, second, and third place teams receive a plaque or equivalent.  First, second, and third place teams members will receive medals.  The weapons competition is an individual event designed to identify the most skilled and disciplined shooter. Presented to the teams that displayed the highest marksmanship skills during the competition.

Sadler Cup (Dismounted Operations Challenge).  First place team receives a "traveling" Sadler Cup; this trophy must be returned prior to the next competition.  First, second, and third place teams receive a plaque or equivalent.  First, second, and third place teams members will receive medals. A four-person fire team will compete in a physically and mentally challenging event.  The objective is to measure strength, endurance, agility, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and knowledge of core skills. Teams navigated a difficult course through the thick brush while
completing various skills assessments critical to their daily duties.

Combat Endurance Challenge.  First, second, and third place teams receive a plaque or equivalent.  First, second, and third place teams members will receive medals. A four-person fire team will compete in a Combat Endurance Relay Competition.  The objective of this event is to negotiate four pre-determined physical agility stations along with predesignated shooting stations for each leg of the relay as quickly as possible.  Each team member will execute one station of the relay.  Tested how each individual and team reacted under stressful conditions. Individual team members completed a grueling relay of calisthenics to increase their physiological stress level prior to engaging a target with their weapon.

Individual Awards:

a.      Top Shot Awards.  Awards will be based on the composite results of all weapons events.  First, second and third place individuals will receive awards.  Presented to individuals who clearly mastered the vital marksmanship skills necessary for our profession.

b.      Most Outstanding Defender Award.  This award is presented on behalf of the Director of Security Forces for outstanding leadership and performance throughout the competition. The three were nominated by their team, observed by the cadre as demonstrating exceptional leadership throughout the competition and evaluated by a panel of Chiefs.

Congratulates all the teams competitors on showing true warrior spirit and determination. You made the competition spectacular and highly motivating. HOOAH!!!

AFSFA contributed $2,000, GEICO donated $500 and the below listed chapters, individuals and supporters allowed the Jack Brokaw-Alamo Chapter to provide an additional $2,675!!  AFSFA members continue to find ways to still serve our Security Forces.

Thanks to the following for their generous contributions: Billie Renfroe Chapter, Eagle Chapter, Front Range Chapter, Gateway Chapter, Jack Brokaw-Alamo Chapter, Pete Magwood Chapter, Ron Blatman-Evergreen Chapter, Sacramento Chapter, and Silver State Chapter; members - Basil Ricconomi and Dave Coulie; and corporate friend ADS, Inc..

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