United States Air Force Security Forces

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This article is about ground defense and police forces. For intelligence operations, see United States Air Force Security Service.
United States Air Force Security Forces
Security Forces Badge
Active As Military Police (1942–1948)
As Air Police (1948–1966)
As Security Police (1966–1997)
As Security Forces (1997–present)
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Air Force
Type Military police
Role Military law enforcement
Part of U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of the Air Force
Motto Defensor Fortis[1]
Beret Flash USAF Security Forces beret flash.jpg
Occupation Badge United States Air Force Force Protection Badge.svg

United States Air Force Security Forces are the force protection and military police of the United States Air Force. Security Forces, or SF, were formerly known as Military Police (MP), Air Police (AP), and Security Police (SP).


Military Police[edit]

Army Air Force Military Police colored unit at Columbus, Georgia in April 1942.

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.”[2] 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.[2]

Air Police[edit]

The National Security Act of 1947 established the current United States Department of Defense, or DoD and formed the United States Air Force from the Army Air Forces as a separate service.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

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 US 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.[2]

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.[2]

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."[2]

Security Police[edit]

USAF security policemen (far left: Amn Marc Joel Berger) from Tan Son Nhut Air Base watch for Viet Cong infiltration attempts along the base perimeter during the Vietnam war.

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.[2]

In March 1971, the security police career field was split into two separate functions: Law Enforcement (AFSC 812XX) and Security (AFSC 811XX) specialties. In 1987, the standard weapon of the Security Police was changed to the Beretta M9, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a standard 15-round magazine, which brought the Security Police in line with the rest of the United States Armed Forces.[3]

In 1996, after the Khobar Towers Bombing, 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.[4]

Security Forces[edit]

Guarding Air Force One on the flight line in Iraq, 2009

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.[5]

A Security Forces Marine Patrol airman from MacDill AFB featured in Airman Magazine.

Uniform Items[edit]

Blue Beret[edit]

A member of the USAF Security Forces (173rd Security Forces Squadron)

The Strategic Air Command's Elite Guard, an Air Police unit first established in December 1956 to provide security at USAF SAC headquarters, was the first USAF unit officially authorized to wear a blue beret (with affixed SAC patch) in 1957 as part of their distinct Elite Guard uniform.[6][7] The Elite Guard's dark blue serge wool beret was worn on duty, at both guard and ceremonial functions, from 1957 onwards.[8][9][10]

In 1966-67, during Operation Safe Side, the first Security Police beret was issued by the 1041st Security Police Squadron. This experimental and specially trained Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD) unit adopted a light blue beret displaying a falcon as its emblem. Operation Safe Side developed into the 82nd Combat Security Police Wing, consisting of three "combat security police" squadrons, but was inactivated in December 1968, ending the unofficial use of the light blue beret.[11]

Elsewhere during the Vietnam War, although not an authorized uniform item, some local security police commanders approved a dark blue beret similar to the SAC Elite Guard beret for their units as a less-conspicuous alternative to the official white Security Police cover for certain specialized personnel. In Thailand during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Military Working Dog handlers assigned to the 6280th SPS at the Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base sported a dark blue beret with no insignia. Other units adopted a beret to distinguish their guards.[11]

In 1975 Brigadier General Thomas Sadler was appointed Air Force Chief of Security Police with the task of bringing the Security Police career field into the mainstream of the Air Force. One tool he employed was recognition of members of a distinctive portion of the force, with the beret proposed as a uniform change. Significant opposition to the beret from senior colonels and Major Command (MAJCOM) Chiefs was gradually overcome by the popularity of the concept with personnel. The uniform board approved the proposal, and the beret was officially worn worldwide starting in February 1976.[11][12]

The 1976 beret was worn with the MAJCOM crest of the appropriate major command to which the unit was assigned. It continued in this manner for 20 years until the forming of the Security Forces. In March 1997, the 82nd CSPW was reactivated and redesignated the 820th Security Forces Group. The heraldry of the 820th SFG then replaced the individual MAJCOM emblems as beret insignia.[11][13] Enlisted personnel wear the dark blue SF beret which bears the fabric SF "Flash" depicting a falcon over an airfield with the SF motto Defensor Fortis underneath. An officers "Flash" is similar in appearance but replaces the embroidered falcon and airfield with either metal "pin on" or embroidered rank.

Recent Events[edit]

Changes to Deployment Length and Training[edit]

Since March 2004, the Air Force has provided airmen to serve combat support roles, despite the stress of working outside their usual duties. As a result, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley has sounded warnings about having airmen filling Army jobs they are not trained to do. Nevertheless, the Air Force steadily increased the number of Airmen serving in combat support roles for its sister services. The Air Force calls such missions “in lieu of” taskings, or ILO for short.[14]

In January 2006, Brig. Gen. Robert Holmes, Director of Security Forces and Force Protection, stated "We want to make our Airmen more proficient, and to do that, we need to adapt. We're going to change our training, our tactics and our procedures and the Air Force will be better for it." General Holmes calls these transformations a "refocus" on how Security Forces train and fight. General Holmes elaborated, "We're not in the Cold War anymore; we have to alter our mentality and our practices for today's reality. Because of the nature of the threat, our Airmen are fighting the global war on terror on the front lines, and we owe it to them to provide training, equipment and resources to be effective. Essentially, Security Forces will focus on preparing for their warfighting mission at forward locations, as well as security at a fixed installation. Our Airmen are going ‘outside the wire’ to conduct missions and are proving successful in keeping people safe." General Holmes also said one of the transformation goals is bringing security forces back in step with standard Air Force 120-day deployments. General Holmes explained, “Right now our folks are going out for 179-day rotations. Our Airmen need time to reconstitute and train. So it’s important to get them in line with the rest of the Air Force. We aim to do just that.” Overall, General Holmes said the changes would make Security Forces more effective and relevant to Air Force needs in the face of the current changing nature of warfare.[15]

In November 2007, it was announced that the Air Force was going to triple the number of Security Forces personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan to back-fill Army and Marines Corps mission tasks.[16]

In September 2010, the Air Force announced it was increasing all combat deployments to 179 days beginning in 2011. Lt. Col. Belinda Petersen, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Personnel Center, said the increase in deployment duration is an effort to “improve predictability and stability for airmen and their families.” Peterson added, by revising the policy, airmen affected by the change will also “ideally” get more time at home. The dwell time for those airmen is expected to increase from 16 to 24 months. Despite these “improvements”, Security Forces, civil engineers, contractors and intelligence are among the busiest in the Air Force, with six-month deployments, followed by only six months at home.[17]

Frankfurt International Airport Attack[edit]

On March 2, 2011, Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, of Williamston, South Carolina, assigned to the 48th Security Forces Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England and Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, 21, of Stanardsville, Virginia., assigned to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany were shot and killed by 21-year-old Kosovo native of Albanian descent named Arif Ukaat at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany.[18] Ukaat's relatives in Kosovo told the Associated Press that he is a devout Muslim and German federal prosecutors said they suspect he was motivated by extremist, Islamist ideology. A U.S. law enforcement official says the shooter shouted "Allahu Akbar", or "God is Great" in Arabic, as he opened fire. The Air Force says most of the airmen attacked were part of a Security Forces team passing through Germany, on their way to a deployment in Afghanistan. In addition to the two dead, two other airmen were wounded.[19] President Obama stated the incident is a “stark reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women are making all around the world to keep us safe and the dangers that they face all around the globe.”[20]

Operation Iraqi Freedom casualties[edit]

1st Lt Joseph Helton was killed when an IED struck his Humvee in the Al Rashid district of Baghdad on September 8, 2009.[21]

As of May 30, 2011, 12 Air Force Security Forces members have died while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. These personnel total 22% of all Air Force casualties during OIF. Of those fatalities, seven were the result of hostile action such as small arms fire and improvised explosive devices. The remaining five were the result of non-hostile action such as vehicle accidents, suicide, and medical problems.[22]

Operation Enduring Freedom casualties[edit]

1 Air Force Security Forces member has been killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. On 5 September 2013, Staff Sergeant Todd "T.J." Lobraico, was killed after his unit was ambushed and attacked by insurgents by small arms fire. SSgt Lobraico was also the only casualty of the New York Air National Guard, he served as a member of the 105th Base Defense Squadron while attached to the 820th Base Defense Group.[23]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]

Other countries[edit]


  1. ^ Latin phrase translation.com Literally, "Protector of the Powerful", but per Pinckney 148, intended as "Defender of the Force".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fox, Roger P. (1979). Air Base Ground Defense in the Republic of Vietnam 1961-1973. Washington D.C.: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force. p. 278. ISBN 141022256X. 
  3. ^ http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20130727/NEWS04/307270003/
  4. ^ Defense.gov News Photos. www.defense.gov. Retrieved August 14, 2011
  5. ^ "820th factsheet". 
  6. ^ Pinckney, Kali, Defensor Fortis: A Brief History of USAF Security And Those Dedicated Few Who Defend The Air Force At The Ground Level, Universal Publishers Press, ISBN 1581125542, ISBN 978-1581125542 (2003), pp. 37-38
  7. ^ Balcer, Ray (Col.), HQ SAC Elite Guard (April 2005)
  8. ^ Farewell To General LeMay Dinner, 11 June 1957
  9. ^ Balcer, Ray (Col.), HQ SAC Elite Guard April, 2005
  10. ^ World's Smartest-Looking Airmen Celebrate A Birthday, Omaha Evening World-Herald, 1 May 1962, p. 16: On 1 May 1962, the Evening World-Herald covered the fifth-year anniversary celebration at Offutt AFB of the founding of the SAC Elite Guard in 1957, complete with a photo of the ceremony clearly showing the Elite Guardsmen in their signature blue wool berets and bone-handled .38 revolvers.
  11. ^ a b c d "History of the Security Police Beret". Safeside Association. Retrieved 21 January 2010. 
  12. ^ Pinckney 2009, p. 102
  13. ^ Pinckney 2009, p. 147
  14. ^ "AF to Triple Number of Airmen in Iraq". www.military.com. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  15. ^ "Security Forces Undergoing Transformation". usmilitary.about.com. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  16. ^ Scott Schonauer. "Air Force to triple number of airmen helping Army, Marines in Iraq - News". Stripes. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  17. ^ Jennifer H. Svan. "Air Force changes deployment lengths for some 42,000 airmen - News". Stripes. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  18. ^ "Air Force officials identify Frankfurt Airport shooting deaths". Af.mil. Archived from the original on 2012-07-21. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  19. ^ "Deaths Of 2 U.S. Airmen Investigated In Germany". NPR. 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  20. ^ "U.S. Airforce Troops Shot And Killed In Germany, Obama Upset". AM 1450 KMMS – Bozeman's News Talk Leader. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  21. ^ http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2009/09/airforce_helton_iraq_death_090909w/
  22. ^ "Iraq Coalition Casualties: Military Fatalities". iCasualties.org. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  23. ^ "Afghanistan Casualty: SSgt Lobraico". militarytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  • Pinckney, Kali (2009). Defensor Fortis:The History of the Air Force Military Police, Air Police, Security Police, and the Security Forces. Lexington, Kentucky: PinckTank Publishing. ISBN 0-615-32829-6. 

External links[edit]