About Defender Magazine
The Defender Magazine is a publication with the primary mission of highlighting the honorable service, sacrifice, and accomplishments the United States Air Force Security Forces members otherwise known as “Defenders.”
Security Forces or SF commonly referred to as “Defenders” were formerly known as Military Police (MP), Air Police (AP), and Security Police (SP) with the official motto “Defensor Fortis” which is translated “Defenders of the Force.”
The Defender Magazine has chosen the slogan “Honoring the Past, Protecting the Present and Securing the Future” as our slogan highlighting the U.S. Air Force’s Security Forces career field.
United States Air Force Security Forces History
United States Air Force (USAF) Security Forces are the force protection and military police of the United States Air Force.
Security Forces or SF commonly referred to as “Defenders” were formerly known as Military Police (MP), Air Police (AP), and Security Police (SP).
The Security Forces career field has a long history, which predates the inception of the Air Force in 1947.
The invention of the aircraft and its subsequent military use required a protective force to guard the aircraft and defend the people who fly and fight. In 1921, Italian General Giulio Douhet said, “It is easier and more effective to destroy the enemy’s aerial power by destroying his nests and eggs on the ground than to hunt his flying birds in the air.” Security Forces are, and have been, that protective force.
In early 1943, the first Army Aviation Military Police Companies were established from existing Army MP Units. The USAF Security Forces lineage can be traced to its beginning in WWII with the German blitzkrieg.
Blitzkrieg relied on swift attacks by land and air. One of the tactics employed by blitzkrieg was the use of paratroops and airborne forces to capture, or destroy in advance, air bases.
A key turning point in air base defensive thinking came with the loss of the island of Crete to German forces and the subsequent capture of the British air base at Maleme in 1941.
This single action led then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to study British air base defense policy and in a condemning memo to the Secretary of State for Air and to the Chief of the Air Staff dated June 29, 1941, Churchill stated he would no longer tolerate the shortcomings of the Royal Air Force (RAF), in which half a million RAF personnel had no combat role.
He ordered that all airmen be armed and ready “to fight and die in defense of their air fields” and that every airfield should be a stronghold of fighting air-ground men and not “uniformed civilians in the prime of life protected by detachments of soldiers.” Churchill’s directive resulted in formation of the RAF Regiment.
On February 12, 1942 the United States adopted the British air defense philosophy. It was then that the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, approved the allocation of 53,299 African-Americans to the Army Air Forces with the “stipulation that air base defense ‘for the number of air bases found necessary’ be organized and that “Negro personnel” be used for this purpose as required.”
This order formed the Army Air Forces (AAF) air base security battalions in June 1942 and was influenced by racial as well as military considerations.
Units were deployed throughout the European, Asian and African theaters and designed to defend against local ground attacks.
These units were armed with rifles, machine guns, and 37-mm guns. Of the initial planned 296 air base security battalions, 261 were to be black, however, the widening Allied superiority of air and ground had reduced this threat and resulted in a diminished need for this goal and by 1943 inactivation of units formed had already begun. In 1945 all AAF air base security battalions were closed.
The National Security Act of 1947 established the current United States Department of Defense (DOD) formed the United States Air Force from the Army Air Forces as a separate service.
MP Units serving with the Army Air Corps before this separation were transferred to the Air Force. The Army-Air Force agreement of 1947 stated that “each department will be responsible for the security of its own installations.”
However, the agreement made no mention of an Air Force ground combat mission. Furthermore, the Key West Agreement of April 21, 1948 identified base defense as one of a number of functions common to all of the military services, yet, nowhere in the agreement was the assignment of the Air Force to defend its own bases.
On January 2, 1948, General Order No. 1 from Headquarters USAF designated those transferred units and personnel as “Air Police” (AP).
On 1 September 1950, the first Air Police school was established at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
In June 1950 the Air Force began urgent operations focused on air base defense with the outbreak of the Korean War. A buildup of ground combat forces began. The center of this buildup was the expansion of the Air Force Air Police from 10,000 in July 1950 to 39,000 in December 1951.
Still, one year into the war, the Air Provost Marshal reported that “the Air Force is without policy or tactical doctrine for Air Base Ground Defense.” In haste, Air Police serving as the cadre of this force were outfitted with armored vehicles, machine guns, and recoilless rifles. Air base defense was officially implemented by Air Force Regulation (AFR) 355-4 on March 3, 1953. AFR 355-4 defined air base defense “as all measures taken by the installation commander to deny hostile forces access to the area encompassing all buildings, equipment, facilities, landing fields, dispersal areas and adjacent terrain.”
However, the regulation did not include provisions for sustained ground defense operations. Performance of this mission fell to the provisional base defense task forces to be organized and equipped like infantry.
It was the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) October 1952 edition of the SAC Manual 205-2 which rejected the notion that the USAF’s ground defense mission conflicted with Army functions. SAC officials felt that success of the Air Force mission might require point defense elements which the Army could not afford to protect, much less have the Air Force rely on the Army to come to the rescue.
Though at times some 32,000 to 35,000 North Korean guerrillas were operating in United Nations controlled territory they ignored US air bases. This would not be the case for USAF Air Bases in the Republic of Vietnam.
In 1952, the Air Police school was transferred to Parks AFB, California and redesignated as the “Air Base Defense School” to emphasize on air base defense capabilities. It soon became evident the emphasis on air base defense was not making much headway. On October 13, 1956, Air Police training was transferred to Lackland AFB, Texas where it evolved into Security Police training and eventually became the US Air Force Security Forces Academy.
On November 1, 1964, between 12:25 and 12:33 AM, Vietnamese Communist (VC) troops attacked Bien Hoa Air Base with six 81-mm mortars positioned about 400 meters north, outside the air base. The VC fired 60 to 80 rounds into parked aircraft and troop billets then withdrew undetected and unabated.
The attack killed 4 U.S. military personnel, wounded 30, destroyed and/or damaged 20 B-57 bombers.
U.S. air bases had become targets and became routine targets thereafter.
The Air Force was not allowed to patrol the perimeter of their bases. That role was left up to the Vietnamese Air Force. Also, the U.S. Army was cited as being tasked to control the security of the area around the air base and after action scrutiny along with politics served to foster distrust and jealousy between services, chains of command and the U.S. and Vietnamese services. As a result, air bases in South Vietnam were left vulnerable.
By striking at USAF air bases the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and VC employed Giulio Douhet’s military concept which stated the only effective way to counter air power was to destroy its bases on the ground. This concept has also been proven effective during the Indochina War, from 1946–1954, when the Viet Minh regularly attacked French air bases and were successful.
The NVA/VC routinely reconnoitered U.S. air bases for lengthy periods and assessed them for vulnerable points which included terrain, reinforcement approach routes, reaction time of artillery support, and the daily routines of U.S. personnel which included their sleeping and eating times, patrol operations and guard shift changes.
However, as good and exact as their reconnaissance was, their failure and/or inability to chart Security Police patrol patterns became evident in one case when their presence was detected by a USAF Sentry Dog Patrol and a Security Alert Team which led to their capture.
During another incident, nine Sappers, well-trained and highly disciplined combat engineers, failed to locate Security Police postings on the flight line. The anxious Sappers met their end when they tried to enter the parking ramp by passing directly in front of a SP machine gun emplacement.
The USAF Sentry Dog program was a product of the Korean War. By 1965 the USAF had a pool of sentry dog teams available for deployment to South Vietnam. Nightly at every air base, sentry dog teams were deployed as a detection and warning screen in the zone separating combat forces from the perimeter. Nearly all air base defense personnel agreed that the Sentry Dog Teams rendered outstanding service. Some of which went as far as to say “Of all the equipment and methods used to detect an attacking enemy force, the sentry dog has provided the most sure, all inclusive means.
In response to the threat to air bases, the Chief of Staff initiated the Safe Side Program under the Seventh Air Force, creating an experimental 226-man unit, the 1041st USAF Police Squadron (Test), trained in using the M-16 rifle, M-60 machinegun, and air base ground defense tactics. After their temporary duty (TDY) deployment to Vietnam in the first half of 1967 to field test the concept, the Safe Side participants were used as instructors and cadre for future units. All were oriented toward US Army Ranger operations, much of which did not necessarily directly apply to Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD), such as long-range recon/ambush, land navigation, stream crossing, and rappelling.
In 1966, the name of the career field was changed to “Security Police” (SP) and the basic Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) from 771XX to 811XX. The term was considered descriptive, concise and uniformly applicable as it combined two main mission elements: Police and Security functions.
In 1968, the Air Force accepted the Safe Side Program’s recommendation to establish 559-man Combat Security Police Squadrons (CSPS) organized into three field flights. Three CSPS were incrementally activated, trained and deployed in 179-day TDY rotations to South Vietnam.
On March 15, 1968, the 821st CSPS began a hasty training program at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and was in place at Phan Rang Air Base on its TDY deployment by April 15. The 822nd CSPS was organized, more completely trained, and replaced the 821st in August 1968. The 823rd CSPS was trained at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and replaced the 822nd in March 1969, remaining until August 1969 when it was replaced by the 821st.
Troop ceilings on forces in South Vietnam did not permit permanent assignment of a CSPS until December 1969, when the withdrawal of U.S. forces was in progress. Safe Side was discontinued and the two CONUS units inactivated. Reduced to 250 personnel, the 821st CSPS remained in-country until February 1971, when it too was inactivated.
Over time, the Air Force Security Police would hone their ground combat skills and tactics based on these initial squadrons and lessons learned in combat.
In March 1971, the security police career field was split into two separate functions: Law Enforcement (AFSC 812XX) and Security (AFSC 811XX) specialties. (The AFSC for Law Enforcement Specialists was later changed to 811X2, and for Security Specialists to 811X0.)
Law Enforcement personnel provided the typical “police” response to safeguard personnel and property while Security personnel performed duties associated with physical security, the flight line and weapons storage areas.
The standard issue sidearm for Security Police was the Smith & Wesson Model 15 Combat Masterpiece in .38 Special with a 4-inch barrel, firing M41 .38 ball ammunition. In 1987, however, the standard weapon of the SP was changed to the Beretta-M9, a 9mm semi-automatic with a standard 15-round magazine.
In 1996, the Khobar Towers Bombing led to the reassessment of the force protection and Security Police mission and ultimately laid the foundation for the career field transformation into the current Security Forces. Security Police members SSgt Alfredo Guerrero, SrA Corey Grice and A1C Christopher Wager received the Airman’s Medal for their actions prior to and after the terrorist attack. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry stated “…the Khobar Towers attack should be seen as a watershed event pointing the way to a radically new mindset and dramatic changes in the way we protect our forces…”
As threats to the world security changed, so did the requirements for security police to better respond to worldwide contingencies and protect Air Force resources. Specialized fields with single skills could no longer meet AF needs.
Consequently, Air Force Chief of Staff directed SP staff to reorganize the entire career field.
In April 1997, three distinct career fields or Air Force Specialties (Air Force Specialty Code – AFSC) merged to become “Security Forces” (SF). Security Specialist (AFSC: 811X0), Law Enforcement Specialist (AFSC: 811X2) to include Military Working Dog Handler (AFSC: 811X0A), and Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (AFSC: 753X0).
Upon completion of the merge, all SF personnel were reassigned AFSCs. The current AFSCs are as follows: Enlisted (3P0X1), MWD/K-9 (3P0X1A), CATM (3P0X1B), and Officers (31PX).
In 1997, the Air Force activated the 820th Base Defense Group, a Force Protection unit based at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The unit is a trained force protection unit of 12 Air Force Specialty Codes with an airborne capability.
The 435th Security Forces Squadron (435 SFS) is a United States Air Force unit capable of overland airlift, air assault, or airborne insertion into crisis situations. The unit incorporates more than 13 different specialties including people with civil engineering, medical, intelligence, investigative, fuels, logistics, personnel and security skills. It was formerly known as the 786th Security Forces Squadron (786 SFS).
In March 2003, the 786 SFS participated in a combat parachute drop into Bashur Airfield in conjunction with the 173rd Airborne Brigade to open up the northern front in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 786 SFS is the first conventional Air Force unit to participate in a combat airborne jump. The 786 SFS was re-designated the 435th Security Forces Squadron on 16 July 2009, and falls under the 435th Contingency Response Group (CRG) (formerly 86 CRG).
Women in the Security Police Field