BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Rifle at the ready, eyes watchful and wary, sweat beads form on their brows and trickle down their chins, exhaust fumes and gritty sand fills their noses, words can barely be heard over the whine of engines, yet the Airmen of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron's Fly-Away Security Teams maintain a constant vigil over the aircraft, personnel and cargo coming in and out of the airfield here. FAST members are required to fly on specific missions, to certain locations, to ensure the aircraft and crew are protected from hostile fire or on-board security breaches. "If the aircrew is safe, they can focus on their mission," said Airman Brandon Gibson, a 455th ESFS FAST team member. "This just helps everything run more smoothly."
Gibson is deployed from Hector Air Field, Fargo, N.D., which is also his hometown. Even though the schedules can be unpredictable, with various show times and unknown mission duration, Gibson said he wouldn't have it any other way. "I have the sweetest mission on base," he said. "I like traveling and interacting with career fields other than security forces." The missions requiring FAST members can vary from carrying hazardous materials, personnel under control, medical units and mission-essential personnel. When flights travel to forward operating bases with limited airfield security, the FAST members play a vital role in protecting Air Force assets. "We're in a hostile country, and we're the sole protectors of a multi-million dollar aircraft," said Senior Airman Michael Bullen, a 455th ESFS FAST team member. "We're really the only people protecting the crew, and protecting the mission." Bullen is also deployed from Hector Air Field, N.D., and hails from Minot, N.D. The protection FAST members provide exists both on and off the aircraft. During the flight, the two-person team executes flight-deck denial; upon touchdown, they exit the aircraft and provide 360 degree security and overwatch during the unloading and reloading of cargo and passengers. "I love to fly," Bullen said. "I love being in the air and still doing our mission."
He explained how he enjoys the interaction and cooperation with the aircrews. "It's more than just saying 'hello' when I check your ID at the gate in the morning," he joked.
The respect and appreciation is mutual between the FAST members and aircrew. "They are definitely an asset to the team," said 1st Lt. Whitt Hollis, a 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130 Hercules co-pilot. "It's peace of mind knowing we have riflemen outside the plane providing security." Hollis is a Denver, Colo., native and is deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. He explained the importance of the FAST members to missions, especially in hostile areas. "They help provide more situational awareness when we're on the ground," Hollis said. "They're all highly motivated and professional. As intense as the job is, they're able to keep a cool head." Both Bullen and Gibson said they hope to extend this first deployment for an additional six months. "I'll never get this mission again, and I'm already in Afghanistan," Gibson said. "It just makes sense to stay for a year. Plus I don't want to go back to Fargo at the beginning of winter." Bullen echoed his teammate's sentiments, stating his love of the FAST mission. "If I could do this job stateside, I would do it forever," Bullen said.