Arizona Air Guard members: ‘Not on my watch’

GOLDWATER AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ariz. -- While others celebrate holidays, watch movies, or sleep soundly in bed, few remain here to protect them from those who would threaten peace and security. They have a greater responsibility than most can fathom, but who are “they” and why do they do what they do?

Select members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing here dutifully miss holidays, family events and lose sleep to work odd shifts in order to accomplish their missions, which ultimately leads to the security and defense of the state and nation.

“Security of the assets and the installation is what we do,” said Tech. Sgt. David Griffin, a flight chief for the 161st Security Forces Squadron, the unit that protects the eight KC-135 Stratotankers and 800 Airmen assigned to the wing. “We bring solace to personnel who work on base and give them a sense of security so that they can execute their mission without interruption.”

Griffin, a former Marine and 16-year veteran, is particularly well versed with the base defense operating center, known as the BDOC to Airmen here. “BDOC is a central area that enables us to dispatch resources, where they may be required on base.”

Griffin and his fellow Defenders have training and capabilities that would be in great demand during a domestic emergency. As such, they can be specifically called upon by the governor. “At any moment, the governor can activate our unit to respond to anything catastrophic. The president could also activate us to engage a national objective.” Griffin said his team is willing, ready and able to answer the call in either case.

“Training is a revolving door for us,” said Griffin. “We are constantly training to harness our skills and increase our preparedness. We regularly train in active shooter exercises, and for an array of other contingencies. Anytime, any day, we are there.”

Griffin and his fellow Defenders are not alone on base during night and weekend shifts. The base’s command post controllers are also on continuous duty to maintain vigilance and respond when needed.

“Command post is a pivotal communication point for the base,” said Staff Sgt. Sarah Fender, a command post specialist here. “Our duties encompass the dissemination of important notifications to everyone on the base, such as desktop alerts on weather, disasters or emergencies.”  The installation notification and warning system is only one program Fender and her team perpetually manage.

Command post’s mission is truly operational 24 hours per day, every day of the year.

“Through the direction of the wing commander, when significant issues arise on base we submit reports to the National Guard Bureau and higher headquarters about the events that transpire,” said Fender, a four-year controller. The command post is ultimately charged with the responsibility of ensuring that there is a proper flow of information to superiors with decision-making authority. 

Part of the base-wide notification system uses a series of speakers throughout the installation to relay emergency messages. The system is commonly referred to as the “giant voice.”

Fender said the command post is also instrumental in operational reporting, which is a process by which personnel route communication and security related matters to the wing leadership.

“I love this shop,” said Fender. “I love the importance of it because, for example, when we do flight follow-ups – with respect to our tankers getting ready to refuel receiver aircraft – we coordinate with the necessary personnel and make that happen.” She said she feels extremely privileged to serve in the unit’s command post and glad to do what is necessary to support the wing’s varied missions.

“We process Emergency Action Messages which make us activate or reconstitute our capabilities,” said Fender. “This is what allows us to initiate our forces in reaction to any type of sabotage, natural disasters or emergency situations.” 

“My job is very gratifying because it allows me to coordinate various resources in response to a situation that could otherwise turn deadly within a matter of minutes.”

For these unit members, it’s not difficult to find the motivation to serve and meet the many demands they face as Airmen. Their memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are still fresh in their minds.

“The morning of September 11, 2001, is by far the most drastic event I have experienced in my military carrier,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin O’Neil, a security forces specialist. “Although there was so much chaos, the magic that I saw was how well everyone worked with each other. At that moment in time, there was no such thing as an Air Force Specialty Code.” 

O’Neil described the unity that existed on base that day. “It was literally the definition of one team, one fight. Even the wing commander at the time came out of his office and rolled his sleeves to push equipment.” He said that unity continues today and inspires him to believe in his job and encourages him to continue his service.

“I enjoy my job, and I echo everyone else in saying that,” said Griffin. “Yes, we sacrifice a lot – like holidays, birthdays and opportunities that others enjoy – but we do it so that the people can take advantage and enjoy their freedoms. While people are at home and the gates are closed we are here for you. We will execute our mission to the greatest extent possible for your safety. We stand on the wall—Defensor Fortis.”