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SOUTHWEST ASIA -- An aircraft commander has plenty to worry about while flying in potentially hostile environments: What are the landing conditions like? Is there security at the landing site? Are my crew and the aircraft safe? Do I have enough fuel? Do I have any mechanical issues?
Thanks to U.S. Air Forces Central Command fly-away security teams, or FAST, at least a few of those concerns can be put to rest.
The FAST program was established in 2007 and is designed to provide discreet, low-visibility, fly-away security for additional protection when needed aboard aircraft transiting the AFCENT theater of operations.
Once tasked for deployment as a FAST member, security forces Airmen attend specialized training to become FAST certified through the Regional Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
"The Air Force prepares you pretty well for the mission," White said. "It's definitely not something you can just be thrown into."While constantly being on the move may seem stressful to some, White was up for the challenge.
"I didn't volunteer for it, but I was definitely open to being on this team," she said. "It's one of the missions that really makes you enjoy being a cop. You're always on the move; it's fun."
Although the mission can be fun and adventurous, FAST members fill important roles.
"On these missions, we are security police, ambassadors and humanitarians all at the same time," said Master Sgt. Chad Eagle, the fly-away security manager for the 609th Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia. "Many of the areas the teams fly into may have never had Americans and U.S. military aircraft in them, so what the Airmen do or how they act can make or break an area's perception of the United States."
This mission takes the Airmen to locations across their area of responsibility.
"My favorite part about what I do would probably be getting to see all the different places around Afghanistan," said Senior Airman Bambi White, a FAST member assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. "It's great to be able to experience the different cultures."
The FAST program has teams on standby throughout the AFCENT theater, ready to go when called upon. Members provide security for the plane and its crew, in addition to distinguished visitors who sometimes travel aboard the aircraft. Based on the mission tasked, there could be a two-, three- or four-person team involved, Eagle said.
"On average, I have about 10 teams projected to perform missions each day," Eagle said. "They are important because without their presence, some missions wouldn't be able to succeed."