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Keeping Watch: Red Tails Defenders maintain forward security in Iraq

AL ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq --

Rapid change is something service members continually prepare for; at any time we can get the notice for a change of duty station, deployment or adjust to new roles within a unit.

For 12 Airmen deployed to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group as Security Forces Defenders, a rapid change presented itself within the first month upon arriving.

Currently, the members are forward deployed to assist the 443rd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, to enable Coalition and joint partners to carry out operations. They provide flightline security, entry control, base defense operations and close boundary sentry duty.

“Our primary mission is to secure the flightline,” said Master Sgt. Michael Reed, the 443rd ESFS acting commander. “We protect the assets here, so our joint and Coalition partners can continue operations seamlessly. This enables them to conduct intelligence gathering and combat search and rescue missions.”

Camp cupcake no more

Once known as “Camp Cupcake,” Al Asad AB was a well-established airbase with a lot more support facilities from swimming pools to restaurants during the height of the Iraq War. The airbase was later over-run by ISIS after the U.S. turned it over to Iraq and only offers a fraction of the comforts it once did.

Al Asad AB has been a critical station for combat search and rescue, medevac and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the fight against the terrorist group.  For approximately two years, U.S. service members have rebuilt the base into an enduring presence. Airmen in the 443rd ESFS have played a vital role to stand up and maintain security.

“The operations here have been shaped with a very dynamic approach,” said Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Gautier, a 407th ESFS member who forward deployed as the flight chief to 443rd ESFS. “Like any other deployment you have total-force Airmen and here we have members with an assortment of experiences from civilian and military law enforcement operations, to those who day in and day out train for any contingency.”

The unit at Al Asad AB comprises Airmen from the 823rd Base Defense Squadron Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, 110th SFS in Battle Creek, Michigan, 105th SFS, New York, and the 159th SFS New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Their purpose and mission can change without notice. They must remain flexible and rely on their training,” said Capt. Jeffrey Robertson, 407th ESFS operations officer. “Tomorrow they could be fully integrated into the perimeter security of the installation or potentially running missions outside-the-wire. Defenders always stand ready, especially here.”

Keeping the link

Operation leads from the 407th ESFS visited the unit and forward deployed Airmen at Al Asad to get a firsthand perspective of 443rd ESFS operations and to evaluate ways they can provide any additional assistance.

“Our visit provides our Airmen a chance to see a familiar face,” said Master Sgt. Francisco Calzadillas, 407th ESFS operations NCO in charge. “We are able to take them packages they received at the 407th and anything they are unable to receive at Al Asad AB. Many of them are first-time deployers and this assures them we care for their well-being as they are living in an austere environment.”

These types of visits have empowered two-way communication between both units, which members at the 443rd ESFS have profited with manning, equipment and other necessities to support their mission.

“The teams before us started from scratch,” Reed said. “The assistance provided from the 407th has greatly improved our day to day operations. The forwarded manning and the essentials we receive couldn’t be more appreciated.”