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There I Was: I jumped on the opportunity to start from 'bare base'

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy Sutfin
  • 6th Security Forces Squadron
Over my last 22 years and all the deployments I have gone on during that time, I was never in a position or had the opportunity to open a new deployment location or "bare base." When that opportunity came, I jumped all over it. The location wasn't exactly new, it was one of those places the Air Force puts in "moth balls" until it is needed again. This one closed in 2003, so there were several issues with the facilities after being vacant for so long, but our small group transformed the location into something usable and brought a new mission to life.

This deployment started like any other. The 6th Security Forces Squadron received a tasking and we plugged names into the slots on the unit type code. Our three personnel were going to link up with the downrange Defense Force commander and first sergeant when we arrived at our pre-deployment Regional Training Center. Unfortunately, the other 110 defenders attended a different training center at a different time. It was hardly ideal, but we made it work through multiple phone calls. Once we finished training and were set to go, our departure was delayed by two weeks. The team from the other training center left on time, so they were able to start the initial build up while leadership was still en route.

The first few weeks were very fast paced. Once we arrived, we hit the ground running. Since we knew everything about the squadron would be built from scratch, we brought operating instructions, checklists, and other files with us so we didn't have to recreate them, but rather modify what already existed. This small step made things a hundred times easier. We made a list of everything we needed and how we needed it to function; conveniently, I had leadership personnel from 10 different security forces squadrons across the Air Force, so coming up with fresh perspectives and solutions was not a concern. Finally, we were able to lay out our integrated base defense plan for the Defense Force commander. From that point on, we were in a "go do" mode where all the items we needed were ordered and purchased, guidance was written, and processes were tweaked as needed. It was definitely a lesson in constant correction and process improvement.

Finally, the base was ready to receive the mission our group was stood up to execute. Our mission was a logistics hub to move Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicles, Buffalos, Persistent Threat Detection Systems, and other critical cargo into United States Central Command's area of responsibility. Within 10 minutes of processing the last vehicle on that first day, we gathered everyone together, from airmen to officers. We broke the process apart to see what went according to our plan and what in our plan needed to be adjusted so we could move the critical cargo more efficiently, securely and safely. The ideas tossed around were invaluable. Minor adjustments were made to the operation before the day was over, and we continually refined our operations.

As you can see, setting up a bare base and getting the mission to start flowing is quite tasking for everyone. There really wasn't time for much else, which was a good thing considering there wasn't anything to the base. Our compound was as tiny as our group, with a 0.9 mile perimeter doubling as a running path. The gym was an old bench, a bar and mismatched weights and a few dumbbells. The dining facility did the best they could with what they had, although meals ready to eat were always available and the options were there. Our living area was 10-person temper tents and cots. There was no Army and Air Force Exchange Service facility, and mail was sporadic at best (once taking 30 days to get to us). It reminded me of a deployment to the Panamanian jungle back in the mid-1990s, and I absolutely loved it.

When we weren't busy knocking the mission out of the park, people ran for exercise and did basic calisthenics like push-ups, sit-ups and other core strength exercises. Some people lost a lot of excess weight. There were no money issues to deal with, since there was nowhere to spend it and the mail wasn't reliable. Airmen got to know who they were living and working with since they were all thrown together in one tent. Once our base leadership got the word that this location would stay open past our rotation, they started planning upgrades, and at about the four month point, things started changing. AAFES came in with a small tent and some comfort items. We got a full-sized gym with brand-new equipment. Force Support opened a recreation tent and even sold alcohol, and the United Services Organization and Armed Forces Entertainment started stopping by with various tours. Our little base that could was officially a full-up operating location, and we finally had the amenities to prove it.

Not everyone gets a chance to open a base and start an entire squadron from scratch. After 22 years of defending bases, aircraft, nuclear weapons, and everything in between, I was thrilled to get another new experience under my belt, and extremely proud to have helped stand up an outstanding Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. I hope your next deployment is as rewarding as mine was.