DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Political pundits often say elections have consequences, meaning things either become better or things become worse. In the U.S. Air Force, a change of command can make things better or worse. Often it takes a new leader, a squadron commander, several weeks to make his or her imprint on a unit to be noticed.
Maj. Scott Hlavin, 7th Security Forces Squadron commander at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, put his imprint on the squadron almost from day one. He held in his hand a climate survey that told the story of his squadron’s past performance. The survey provided Hlavin with challenges that he wanted to resolve faster than it takes an aircraft carrier to do a 360 in a thunderstorm. Senior Master Sgt. Cody Green, the 7th SFS operations superintendent, helped propel the actions that were required to change the culture, improve communications and gain their Airmen’s trust.
Security Forces have two primary functions; law enforcement and security. Airmen spend 10 weeks in technical school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas learning useful skills.
“When they report for duty at their new assignment, Airmen have been exposed to approximately 15 percent of what they should know. But after completing technical school, there’s still a lot for them to learn,” according to Green.
“It takes three or four years to train security forces Airmen to master all the skills and gain the knowledge that is required to perform their required duties,” Hlavin added.
Newly assigned Airmen are in training the moment they report for duty. For 30 days they are taught the proper use of force, receive a flight line orientation, and learn all the restricted areas that includes the checklist that is required to allow authorized individuals to enter restricted areas.
In the past, the 3PO career field was an assignment that very few Airmen asked for. Most new Airmen assigned to the career field were selected from the “general” category.
“Today, all our Airmen asked to be assigned to Security Forces.’” Green said. “In fact, there is a waiting list of several months to get into Security Forces.
What attracts Airmen to a career field that often has 12-hour shifts, that exposes them to inclement weather and are often taken for granted by Airmen when they drive through the gate of an Air Force base?
The answer is pride in their unit, pride in their job and pride in themselves.
From where does this abundance of pride originate? “From the squadron’s leadership, commitment to their well-being and mutual trust,” Green said.
Another major factor in leading men and women who work as many as 246 hours a month and have to train for another 16 hours, is the empowerment of their senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs). If any commander believes he or she can bypass the chain of command by ignoring NCOs and curry favor with enlisted Airmen, to be seen as their friend, it will probably not be successful. NCOs are the eyes, ears, and voices of their commander. They become the commander’s surrogates with respect to values, expectations and goals. The buy-in of the commander’s leadership throughout the chain of command is paramount to changing the culture of an organization.
Since there are as many as 20% of the squadron on deployment at any given time, defenders have to work 12- hour shifts. As a result, both Hlavin and Green implemented some Quality of Life and Quality of Unit of Operations improvements.
Finally, one other important aspect of Hlavin’s leadership style is that the chain of command is a two-way street with respect to communication. Hlavin’s motto is, “It’s what is right, and not who is right.” In other words, don’t shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message.
Most Airmen don’t fully appreciate what security forces do to safeguard the base and its personnel. Within security there is controlling access to the base, to restricted areas, to aircraft, responding to building alarms, managing alarm systems and responding to an active shooter. Security also includes combat arms training, working dogs training, inspecting all commercial vehicles that enter the base, and protecting base assets. Law enforcement is similar to their civilian counterparts i.e., enforcing traffic laws, investigating infractions of non-traffic laws, responding to civil disorder, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Most significant of all, Security Forces are defenders. During the Tet Offensive in January and February of, 1968, enemy forces attacked every major city in Vietnam. Combat units stationed in and around Tan Son Nhut air base, near Saigon, were sent to defend other cities. When enemy forces attacked the air base, the only Security Forces, the 377th Security Police Squadron, was left to defend the base. They were initially outgunned and outnumbered, and the base sustained damage. The 377th SPS wasn’t alone for too long, the Army conscripted service troops to augment them. Most had little or no combat training. The 377th SPS was also supported by South Vietnamese units that were delayed on their way to other locations in South Vietnam. The Vietnamese Air Force (RVNAF) managed to send several A-1 Skyraiders while the USAF sent several F-100 Super Sabres to attack enemy strongholds. The forces in and around the base saved several important facilities including 7th Air Force Headquarters, MACV Headquarters and the RVNAF Headquarters. American forces sustained 22 losses, the 377th SPS sustained four.
Security Forces have changed since 1968 to insure that defenders are properly equipped and trained to defend air force installations. The men and women assigned to the 7th SFS, are the beneficiaries of the battle for Tan Son Nhut Air Base. They will defend Dyess AFB as did their predecessors in Vietnam. Take note of your defenders when you enter the base.