By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — They greet us every time we come on base, but members of the 21st Security Forces Squadron do more than check IDs at the gate.
“There are tons of misconceptions about security forces. First and foremost, people always associate with us primarily as the entry control points,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Musacchia, 21st SFS commander. “Security forces are pretty much associated just with law enforcement activities on the installation. Law enforcement and entry control work are about 10 percent of what we do.”
The approximately 250 security forces members at Peterson Air Force Base work around the clock to provide a safe base for the more than 50 mission partners here, Musacchia said.
First known as the Air Police, then later the Security Police and finally the Security Forces, their primary mission is the defense of America’s nuclear arsenal. The second priority is the integrated defense of the installation.
“We provide the safe operational environment for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Space Command, and Air Forces Strategic Command, to effectively and efficiently operate as a command and control node by giving them that safe operational platform,” he said.
How this safe platform is established changes on a daily basis. “Under the integrated defense concept, we defend the installation based upon risk. We look at where we have the biggest risk and (determine how) to defend that risk,” Musacchia said. “That risk changes every day. It causes us to be at a constant state of readiness and use intelligence to drive our operations.”
Risks include everything from distinguished visitors coming through the flight line, shop lifting at the base exchange, and adversaries trying to gain access to the entry control points. What goes on day-to-day is determined through carefully collected intelligence information, he said.
Every week, several meetings are held to determine what the risks are likely to be and how to defend against them. “The individual flight sergeants then put the players in the key positions at the key times,” he said. “If nothing happens then that means we apparently did it right because we stopped it before it started.”
Security forces members are required to complete 160 hours of training on top of the training all Airmen must complete on a yearly basis. “Not to mention our weapons qualifications. We have to be able to do things with our weapon system that the average Airman does not,” Musacchia said.
There are three different weapons qualifications within security forces. Marksmen can hit a target within 500 meters. Advanced Designated Marksmen have a special weapon system and they have the capability to effectively engage and neutralize a target anywhere from 600 to 700 meters. Most advanced are the Close Precision Engagement Teams which have the capability to operate “outside the wire” for 72 hours unsupported and can make an effective shot from more than 800 meters.
Security forces also works closely with the Office of Special Investigations. “There’s a matrix that is in the OSI regulations and there is a matrix that is in the Security Forces Investigation Air Force Instruction that are identical. It clearly spells out who investigates what,” Musacchia said.
Minor felonies and misdemeanors fall to security forces investigation. Felonies, including rape, murder, child abuse with grievous bodily harm, sexual assault with the intent to commit rape, are under the purview of OSI. There are also certain cases where the two organizations work closely together.
Security Forces Investigators attend the Military Police Investigation School. “Our investigators work very closely and very well with the investigators from OSI,” Musacchia said.
In addition, 21st SW security forces also maintain the second largest working kennel in the continental United States. “We support three installations with our military working dogs,” Musacchia said, including 24 hour support of Peterson AFB, Schriever Air Force Base, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. They also support Buckley Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County as requested.
Every working dog handler in the Department of Defense is trained at the Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, he said. “If there’s an Army troop or a Marine troop pulling a dog, he learned how to pull that dog at Lackland Air Force Base and he was trained by a security forces member.”
So the next time you hand over your ID card to be checked at the gate, remember the multiple missions the security forces carry out daily. “The people who are looking to do us harm notice us,” he said. “The average Airman and his family probably won’t, but we hope they notice us because we want to be there to let them know that we’re on the wire to protect them.”