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Commentary: Security forces and transformation: why and what for?

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- A lot has been made recently of the Air Force’s plan to transform security forces and the entire Air Force in general into a more capable fighting power. This has been met with cheers from most inside the security forces community, but also with many jeers from other career fields. The common jeer goes something like this, “I didn’t join the Air Force to be a grunt.” Although absolutely true for most, this is a short-sighted answer that ignores the strategic implications inept base defense can create.

United States air bases in Iraq have been attacked more than 1,000 times in just the first two years of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This prompted the deputy chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations, Gen. Ronald Keys, Air Combat Command commander to declare in October 2004 that air base defense was one of the five critical problems without a solution currently facing the U.S. Air Force. A solution exists, just not in current air base defense doctrine. The current doctrine presents a conventional force or saboteur threat to air bases.

Instead, the history of air base attacks reveals a different but consistent enemy over the last 50 years—the insurgent. Unlike conventional forces, who seek decisive military victory and the destruction of the adversary’s military resources, the insurgent seeks primarily and ultimately a political victory. To do this, among other efforts insurgents must wage an “information war” in order to expand the growth and power of the insurgent organization, often through acts of symbolic violence against targets of strategic value. As such, the air base is a leading target of choice for insurgents as a symbolic stronghold of American power.

Air bases are key operational and strategic terrain to the U.S. military, arguably the most critical terrain in the current American way of war. With each air base attack, no matter which specific enemy tactic is used, insurgents attempts to strengthen their hold over their own center of gravity—the local population—while attacking the U.S. center of gravity—the political will of the American public.

Only a base defense that targets the insurgents’ center of gravity in the physical, informational and moral spectrum will succeed at disrupting insurgent operations and protect the air base, the local population and the U.S. center of gravity. This can only be accomplished by getting security forces “outside the wire” to challenge the enemy on their terrain. However, this means other Air Force members will have to fill the gaps of the interior base defense that security forces would leave vacant. There is no choice.

In a time of a dwindling Air Force in an uncertain world, every Airman must become a defender and every Airman must be a warrior. If not, we will continue to let the enemy dictate to us how our bases operate or if our Airmen survive. This is unacceptable.

You see, earlier this week, Tech. Sgt. Jason Norton was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He was one of my bright young stars at my prior command at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. He died defending his fellow Airmen—a mission that was his calling. The Air Force is starting to realize that to face down the insurgent foe of today, defending our fellow Airmen must become the calling of all of us who serve in the Air Force.

Editor’s note: Tech. Sgt. Jason L. Norton, 32, of Miami, Okla., was killed Jan. 22 supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy escort duties near Taji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.