May 14th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

‘Sky Cops’ Protect Bases, Bombers, Missile Fields, And Take On New Roles

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM

Editor’s note: Part I in this series last issue covered the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. 

The United States Air Force is a unique service for a multitude of reasons. It was the first branch of the service to allow women into combat roles (security police) and has an entire career field dedicated to protecting air bases, aircraft, Air Force personnel and nuclear weapons. All of the other services require individual units to provide security for themselves, i.e. an Army aviation unit’s members, including her mechanics, are armed and trained as riflemen. In the Air Force, only one group is trained in the art of Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD).

Chuck Norris started his martial arts training when he was an air policeman in Korea. Besides Norris, the “Sky Cops” have a storied past full of unsung heroes, hard-fought battles and the distinction that not a single air base was ever overrun during the Vietnam War – and not for lack of trying on the North Vietnamese’s part either. It has taken nearly 70 years for this career field to gain its true identity. Here is that story.

POST WORLD WAR II
In 1947 when the Air Force was officially separated from the Army, the need to protect not only the aircraft but now a cache of nuclear weapons became paramount. The old-time bomber pilot and commander Curtis LeMay saw the need for a unit to function like the infantry, but on Air Force bases. These airmen needed to be versed in the use of small arms, crew-served weapons, and squad- (fire team in the Air Force), platoon- (called a flight) and company- (called a squadron) level tactics. These units needed to be highly specialized in the deterrence and detection of unauthorized people or groups attempting to access a base (especially ones with nuclear missions) or missile field. The Strategic Air Command led the way in developing their APs into highly trained soldier airmen, known unofficially as “SAC Trained Killers.”

During the Korean War, very few air bases came under attack. The APs were basically law enforcement on the base and guarded aircraft. No tactical plans had been implemented, let alone training for a base attack. The Air Force was lucky, but their luck would be tested mightily in the next go-around. The SAC model wasn’t followed by units in Korea, as the nuclear weapons were kept stateside.

VIETNAM
As the Vietnam War ramped up in the 1960s, so did the need for the Air Force’s presence in and around America’s ally in Southeast Asia. The U.S. focused most of its air bases in South Vietnam and Thailand, with others further away in places like Guam and the Philippines. Those bases located on the mainland endured the greatest risk of attack, as they sat close to enemy forces. Amazingly enough, few of the Air Force bases came under attack in the beginning years of the war. The tactics and mindset were still very Korean War-oriented. Many APs arrived at bases in Southeast Asia to find no weapons had been sent for them to use. Other bases had WWII leftovers – Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), .30-caliber Browning machineguns, grease guns, Colt .45 ACP 1911s and M1 Carbines.

I spoke with Senior Master Sergeant Pete Piazza (retired) at length about what the Sky Cops (as they were lovingly dubbed) endured from 1966-72. Piazza served three tours of duty in Vietnam as an AP and then as a SP. He witnessed firsthand the Air Force go from no real idea of how to defend a base to being awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Bien Hoa Air Base on Jan. 31, 1968, during the Tet Offensive.

Piazza took charge of his bunker when his leader, Capt. Maisey, was killed by a rocket. A staff sergeant at the time, he spent the next eight hours running through heavy machinegun fire, rockets and sniper fire to keep his men fully supplied with much-needed ammunition and water. Piazza was quick to educate me on a couple of little known facts.

“Ninety percent of the SPs that were at Air Force bases when Tet started had never seen combat,” he told me.

Air police, security police, security forces – the protectors of our country’s air bases and overseas assets have had several names, but the job they’ve done has never wavered. (TROY TAYSOM)

He also said something that intrigued me: “The Air Force was the only branch of the service that didn’t have one of their bases overrun by the enemy.”

Why was that? Men just like Piazza. But ask him and he’ll say, “I was just doing what everybody else was doing.” While humility is the true sign of a hero, I will have to disagree with Pete on this one. Silver Stars aren’t just handed out, especially to enlisted USAF airmen.

Undoubtedly, there were others who performed as bravely as Piazza did on that January day so long ago. I can’t possibly find and speak to them all; some, including his direct supervisor, Capt. Maisey, were killed on that day and in the days to come as Tet raged on. Piazza certainly wasn’t part of any “chair force.” He was every bit an infantryman that day as Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller.

Ask any soldier and he or she will tell you: Whoever owns the night has the advantage. The SPs were some of the first units in the Vietnam War to receive ANTVS-2 scopes, nicknamed “Starlight” because of their use of ambient star and moon light. These scopes were some of the first real attempts at night vision and changed the face of war forever. The riflemounted scope gave the user night vision out to 400 meters, while a crew-served weapons version, the ANPVS-4, worked out to 1,000, and an off-weapon version, the ANPVS-5, allowed sight out to 1,500 meters. For those airmen who had them, night shifts became a little less nerve racking.

One asset was in great supply, and gave the SPs another advantage at night – military working dogs, MWDs or K9s. The Sky Cops would walk the perimeter at night with their dogs. The SPs couldn’t see any better just because they had a dog, but the dogs could sense the presence of intruders, and on more than one occasion they stopped enemy sappers before they had the chance to breach the perimeter fence. For whatever reason, the Viet Cong also had a healthy fear of these K9s and kept their distance as word spread of their presence on the air bases. At the height of the K9 program, in January 1967, there were 476 dogs deployed. The dog handlers carried a special version of the M16, called the GAU-5/A. It was shorter and allowed the handler to control the dog and fire the rifle one-handed if needed.

It wasn’t until after Tet that the Air Force wrote its first definitive, battle-tested, air-base ground defense manual to be used in the years ahead – especially during the Cold War.
THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT
On May 12, 1975, Cambodian naval ships captured the S.S. Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant marine ship, in international waters. Negotiations broke down and a rescue mission was planned. The closest unit with combat experience was the 56th Security Police Squadron stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After the CH-53 Knife helicopters plus some HH-53 choppers left the base, Knife 13 disappeared from radar 40 miles out. It is widely thought that mechanical issues caused the crash. All 18 security policemen and four crew members and a linguist died.

Moments before take-off, a picture of the ill-fated Sky Cops in Knife 13 was taken. Thirty minutes later all 23 passengers were dead. The image leaves a haunting legacy of sacrifice and how short life can be in a combat zone.
COLD WAR
As the Cold War heated up, America’s nuclear arsenal followed suit. Most nuclear assets came under the purview of the USAF, and more specifically SAC. SAC was the brain child of LeMay and was arguably the best run major command in the Air Force. SAC operated bases for bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as bases that
supported missile field operations. These wings were subject to remarkably stringent inspections, the failure of which would result in the firing of the senior staff of the wing.

The USAF was the first branch of the military to deploy female snipers and has since trained multiple women in this role. (USAF)

The SPs were responsible for several missions on SAC bases: the protection of the weapons storage areas, where the nukes were stored; and the physical guarding of the B-52s and KC-135s, air refuelers, that were on “alert.” Being on alert required the aircrews to live in a special facility next to the aircraft. At the sound of the klaxon, the crews rushed to their aircraft and were ready for take-off to top secret destinations. The SPs guarded all of these locations, day and night, 24/7/365. At places like Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, guard duty tested one’s desire to be a cop.

Missile fields also demanded the attention of the SPs. These fields were vast and remote. Cops worked seven days straight, often living out of campers attached to the back of pick-up trucks. The missile fields weren’t located in tropical locales either. They were spread across states like Montana, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. Working conditions for the cops were less than ideal; in fact, at times the conditions resembled the Arctic Circle more than the continental United States. But defend these locations the SPs did, and to this day, still do. In 1997 security police career fields of law enforcement and security specialist were merged into one field and renamed Security Forces. This change gave the cops more flexibility in manning assignments, as well as providing cross training.

MODERN-DAY WAR ON TERROR

The USAF’s modern-day Security Forces function even more like infantry units than the cops in the past. They have all the weapons of the infantry – the M240, M249B, M4, M9, M203, 81mm mortars and M24 sniper systems. They are the first service to deploy female snipers and have now trained multiple women in this role.

Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft - Photo by J Hines

Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft – Photo by J Hines

The Air Force’s cops continue to become a “high speed, low drag” group. They have a squadron that is airborne qualified, stationed in Georgia. This group of cops even made a combat jump with the Army into Iraq. Air Mobility Command has also developed a group called the Ravens. In this group of Security Forces, airmen accompany aircraft into dangerous regions of the world where there is no on ground security for the aircraft. These men and women travel the world providing security for these USAF assets and serve as Force Protection advisors to aircrew members. Other major commands have similar.

In addition to guarding U.S. Air Force missile fields, “Sky Cops” also protect the nation’s bomber fleet. Here, Airman 1st Class Arlando Budd, assigned to the 509th Security Forces Squadron, provides security near a B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (SENIOR AIRMAN NICK WILSON, USAF)

The Air Force continues to change with the times. It just so happens that the “Sky Cops” are leading the way when it comes to installation, asset, nuclear and personnel security. The lessons learned in the Jungles of Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the lessons of the Cold War in Europe and the frozen missile fields and bomber facilities of America are the foundation under which the new generation of Sky Cops continue to grow and evolve. ASJ

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April 13th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

Guardians Of The Air Force – Part I of II

‘The Eyes Of The Eagle’

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM

In 1947 the world was rebuilding after the most devastating global conflict we’ve ever known had ended. The importance of air power had been proven with the destruction of Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Berlin and Hamburg. The importance of owning the skies above the battlefield led our nation to form a new branch of the military; on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born.
Just one year later, a new career field was created within the USAF. Modeled after the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI or OSI) was formed in August of 1948. The impetus for its formation would propel OSI agents to the forefront of professional fraud investigations.

Agents carried Smith & Wesson’s .38 Chief’s Special between the 1950s and 1970s, but these days may carry personal handguns on an approved list. (USAF)

Agents carried Smith & Wesson’s .38 Chief’s Special between the 1950s and 1970s, but these days may carry personal handguns on an approved list. (USAF)

AT THE END OF WWII, Major General Bennett E. Meyers, in charge of procurement, fell victim to one of the seven deadly sins – greed. He saw how much money was being spent and how little oversight was present, and took advantage of his position. An anonymous letter floated around the military and the FBI for years, written by a junior-ranking officer explaining what this general was up to. Legend says that the letter remained largely ignored because of unclear jurisdictional matters. The letter finally saw the light of day during Senate hearings, and exposed the inadequate system that the Air Force had for such investigations. In April 1948, this Senate committee made a recommendation: “A competent investigative unit should be established at once to act as a watchdog over the huge and continuing expenditure of public funds by that important arm [Air Force] of the military establishment.” OSI was formed with a three-pronged dictate: investigate fraud, criminal activity and perform counterintelligence.

The military is a microcosm of society, which means if society has it, the military has it as well, just on a smaller scale. Many of the crimes OSI investigates, such as drugs for example, are among the wide swath of responsibilities under their umbrella. (USAF)

The military is a microcosm of society, which means if society has it, the military has it as well, just on a smaller scale. Many of the crimes OSI investigates, such as drugs for example, are among the wide swath of responsibilities under their umbrella. (USAF)

AFOSI FUNCTIONS MUCH LIKE the FBI, but only within the confines of the mission of the Air Force. Special agents (SA) don’t wear uniforms and rank is hardly spoken of. AFOSI reports directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force, and is not beholden to base and wing commanders like all other Air Force personnel. It’s not because they are privileged or entitled; it’s to ensure a safety gap exists in the event that the base or wing commander is the one under investigation. This separation ensures that rank is not used to intimidate the enlisted agents as they investigate potential crimes.

OSI agents destroy weapons in Afghanistan that were seized during operations. (PHOTOS USAF - SRA MARCI BOOZER)

OSI agents destroy weapons in Afghanistan that were seized during operations. (PHOTOS USAF – SRA MARCI BOOZER)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the number one requested career field by newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants is pilot training. However, it may surprise some that the second most requested field is OSI. The amazing thing is that the field has less than 3,000 agents and just over 300 of those are officers. The majority are enlisted personnel, followed closely by civilians.
SAs go through a rigorous selection process that includes an exhaustive background investigation, an in-depth polygraph and then basic federal agents’ school in Glynco, Ga. After basic training, the SAs split off into their own OSI academy to learn the capabilities and pillars under which OSI operates. According to OSI, their cornerstones are:

• Vigorously solve crime;
• Protect secrets;
• Warn of threats;
• Exploit intelligence opportunities;
• And operate in cyberspace.

Special Agent Nathan Sessler (left) with another agent and local children in Iraq. This is just one of many locations around the world where OSI operates. (NATHAN SESSLER)

Special Agent Nathan Sessler (left) with another agent and local children in Iraq. This is just one of many locations around the world where OSI operates. (NATHAN SESSLER)

AGENTS HAVE A PLETHORA of weapons they use in the field. From the early 1950s until the late 1970s OSI agents carried .38 Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special (which was renamed the Model 36) 3-inch revolvers. In the late 1970s, OSI decided to switch to the M1911A1 .45 ACP. They acquired surplus guns that the Navy had deemed unserviceable and customized them. The barrel and slide were shortened by three quarters of an inch and the frame by a half inch. The shortened frame required a custom-made, six-round magazine. Many agents praised the change to a better caliber, but the gun was plagued with slide cracks, failures to feed, as well as stove-pipe failures, according to one retired agent I spoke with. It is estimated that it only cost the Air Force $100 per gun to make changes to the .45s, making the project highly economical.
The Colt proved to be a good stop-gap between the old 3-inch .38s and the new 9mm adopted by the armed forces in 1985. Not long after the military adopted the Beretta M9, OSI started issuing them to the SAs. The M9 was liked by many and hated by probably just as many. For an OSI agent the biggest issue was concealability. The M9 was not designed to be carried as a concealed firearm. It was a battlefield back-up gun. OSI needed something more in line with their missions, including undercover investigations and protective details.

After 9/11, many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). Searching for weapons caches was among the many duties of this special agent. (USAF)

After 9/11, many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). Searching for weapons caches was among the many duties of this special agent. (USAF)

Ultimately OSI adopted the Sig Sauer M11, or P228 in civilian terms, just like US Army pilots and other aircrews. However, in November 2015, the AFOSI commander, Brigadier General Keith M. Givens, announced a new weapons policy, which allowed SAs to carry privately owned weapons (POWs) as long as they are on the list  of 27 approved models. Brig. Gen. Givens explained, “One of the main driving forces behind this change was the desire to provide each agent the option to employ a weapon that best suits their individual body type and hand size for preference and concealment concerns. Now, OSI Special Agents will have that flexibility.”
Agents are also trained with the Remington 870 and the M4. Agents who deploy in counterinsurgency rolls have the chance to qualify with other weapons like the M203, M240 and M249.
Agents working protective details have used everything from Remington 870s with a folding steel stocks to Uzis and MP5s, depending on what part of the world they are in.

Once and SA has completed training they are assigned to a detachment somewhere in the world to undergo their probationary period. During this time a more senior SA will work with them on criminal investigations, including fraud, narcotics, sexual assaults, murders and any other serious felonies that present themselves.

AFOSI HAS A REPUTATION of working closely with their civilian counterparts. One famous incident involved three airmen from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The airmen robbed a hi-fi-type store in Ogden, Utah, a town close to the base. During the robbery they held several people hostage and committed heinous crimes, including forcing some to drink liquid Drano in hopes of killing the witnesses. When this didn’t work they shot each of the hostages. One man still didn’t die and they resorted to kicking a pen into his ear and choking him – he lived and crawled outside where he was found. A tip from a fellow airman led police to Airman Dale S. Pierre, then 21 years old, and Airman William Andrews, age 20. Evidence was recovered from a dumpster next to the base and with the help of OSI, a search warrant was issued and executed in the barracks. The stereo equipment was recovered, and the two stood trial and were convicted on multiple felonies including capital murder. Pierre was executed in 1987 and Andrews in 1992.
Former SA Nathan Sessler told me that during his time at Pope Airfield, N.C., he worked closely with the Fayetteville Police Department to learn more about street gangs. Street gangs wouldn’t seem to be a problem in the Air Force, but SA Sessler pointed out that the military is a microcosm of society – if society has it, the military has it too, just on a smaller scale. With his new training he was able to identify members within the Air Force and get the local police to verify gang membership.

OSI agents report directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force. SA Smiley takes in the sights in Afghanistan. (USAF)

OSI agents report directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force. SA Smiley takes in the sights in Afghanistan. (USAF)

In Texas, OSI found that members of the “Bloods,” a known and violent gang, had joined the Air Force and were working in the post office on base, using it to smuggle and transport narcotics.
OSI has always excelled at investigating fraud. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a chief master sergeant stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., was investigated for stealing flight-line generators and using them to help high-ranking officers build summer cabins in the countryside.
At around the same time a master sergeant working in a supply supervisory role was caught using government funds to furnish his private rental units. The investigation uncovered $200,000 worth of ill-gotten furniture, fixtures and equipment in his apartments.

DURING MY INTERVIEW with SA Sessler he mentioned a case where a topographical-map printer, valued at $13,000, was stolen from an air evacuation medical unit. The printer didn’t turn up until the spouse of an airmen was involved in a domestic battery. She told his commanding officer and police that her husband had stolen a printer from his squadron. SA Sessler went to the home to investigate and located the printer. What came next shocked the seasoned OSI veteran. The wife casually asked, “Would he (the husband) be in trouble if he had stolen other stuff from the Air Force?” “Yes, ma’am,” responded Sessler. She led him to the couple’s three-car garage that was packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall with stolen and misappropriated merchandise. The man was an E-7 with 19.5 years of service and was a unit purchaser with a no-limit government credit card. He showed his subordinates how to reconcile the books by simply selecting the approve-all button in the software. In 18 months the master sergeant had stolen $392,000 worth of material. His subordinates were charged with dereliction of duty and he received an eight-year imprisonment, loss of rank, forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.

The future looks bright for OSI. There seems to be no end to their expertise and ability to reshape their section of the Air Force to adapt to changing times. (USAF)

The future looks bright for OSI. There seems to be no end to their expertise and ability to reshape their section of the Air Force to adapt to changing times. (USAF)

OSI has also jumped into the world of computer crimes as well as counterinsurgency. These crimes include everything from attempts to steal sensitive data to child pornography. SA Sessler was one of the agents who got a confession from an E-6 who had been creating and distributing child porn while stationed in the US. He was arrested at Pope AFB. Airman Nathan Wogan was sentenced to life in prison, thanks to the efforts of AFOSI agents like SA Sessler.

UNTIL 9/11, OSI WASN’T HEAVILY involved in counterinsurgency. During the war on terror many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). This is no different than working narcotics cases with informants and insiders. In fact, OSI was able to get one of the most prolific improvised explosive device (IED) makers in southern Iraq off the streets. Several SAs had been discussing problems they were having in the area with IEDs. One of the agents suggested they work the case just like they would for narcotics. They did and worked their way up the ladder, so to speak, and were eventually buying directly from the IED maker, ultimately taking him into custody. After the operation, the number of IEDs in that area dropped to nearly zero.
In December of 2015, four OSI agents were killed doing counterinsurgency work in Afghanistan. Even though they are not considered front-line units like Rangers, Special Forces, SEALS and Delta Force, the job that OSI agents do is vitally important to the safety of our air assets and the lives of those who serve in the Air Force. Make no mistake, however, theirs is a dangerous job and always will be.
In OSIs 68-year history, they have lost 14 agents in the line of duty – four in that single day in 2015. ASJ

Editor’s note: Next issue, in part II of this series, we will profile other very important USAF law enforcement agencies that protect military assets and help keep our country safe.

Author’s note: Special thanks to the following retired OSI agents for their tremendous help with this article: Mike Brunson, Steve Rivers, Nathan Sessler, Michael Taysom, Bill Yurek and many others. 

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is often considered to be the FBI of the Air Force. Their roles in investigating crimes around the world ranges from fingerprint processing, just like special agent Adam Deem is demonstrating, to countering drug trafficking, insurgent explosive devices and gang activities. (USAF)

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is often considered to be the FBI of the Air Force. Their roles in investigating crimes around the world ranges from fingerprint processing, just like special agent Adam Deem is demonstrating, to countering drug trafficking, insurgent explosive devices and gang activities. (USAF)

 

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