Police week honors security forces legacy

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sarah Babbitt
  • 18th Security Forces Squadron
It was President John F. Kennedy who, in 1962, proclaimed May 15 as Peace Officer's Memorial Day, one of many significant milestones celebrated annually during National Police Week.  

As a Security Forces Airman, Police Week provides an opportunity to showcase our unique profession while honoring the legacy of those bold men and women who advocated the need for an Air Police force, served within its ranks or fell valiantly in defense of those who fly, fight and win. 

Our history was molded by the giants of Air Power; Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold gave us our first Air Provost Marshal in 1943 and Gen. Curtis LeMay furthered that vision by expanding our mission set beyond traditional law enforcement roles to encompass both conventional and nuclear security as well as combat arms expertise. 

Defenders guarded Army Air Corps bases in both theaters of operation during World War II, helping to ensure the defeat of tyranny across the globe. They were often the only armed servicemen to defend newly established bases throughout the turbulent dichotomy of advancement and withdrawal of allied forces in Korea, making a famously valiant, but ultimately futile last stand at Kimpo Air Base. 

It was in the jungles of Vietnam where five brave Defenders were awarded the Silver Star (four of whom earned it posthumously) for engaging a superior enemy force from their post, Bunker 051, long enough to ensure the survival and dominance of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. 

Vietnam provided the backdrop for the first Air Force Cross issued to a non-aviator when a young security police captain earned it for his heroic actions at Ben Hoa Air Base and another, just one year later, for "extraordinary coolness under fire" at Phan Rang Air Base. 

The conflict in Vietnam also demonstrated the value of our exceptional military working dogs; a program long advocated by the Air Force. It was dogs like "Nemo (A-534)" who showed the skill, bravery and selflessness in combat that eventually led the Air Force to become the executive agent of the military working dog program for the Department of Defense. Our legacy isn't complete without our four legged companions who continue to serve proudly at our side both at home and overseas.  

Modern warfare continued to broaden horizons for Defenders. In 1985, then Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr opened the career field to women and we've served honorably with our male counterparts ever since.

Security forces have a long history of defending our nuclear arsenal from the birth of Strategic Air Command in 1947 through the end of the Cold War in 1992. 

Five years later, three Defenders saved hundreds of lives by sounding the alarm and evacuating Khobar Towers before a truck bomb exploded just outside their base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Although 19 lives were tragically lost in the bombing, 498 personnel in and around the complex were saved by the quick action of those Defenders. 

After 9/11 our career field surged in support of the War on Terror and its expanded operations in the Middle East that continue to this day and we mourn for the 12 Defenders and countless war dogs we have lost since the fall of the twin towers 15 years ago.

Of the many emotions Police Week evokes from me, perhaps the single greatest one is pride.

Today's Defenders are not altogether different from our predecessors. We are still a bit of a wild bunch heralding from varied backgrounds and beliefs, but above all else, we are a family forged by a unique bond of brotherhood that few share. 

It's not an easy job to be a Defender. At times it can feel like the most thankless job in the Air Force. Let's face it, no one likes to wait in line to get a visitor pass, sit at the gate during morning rush hour or get issued a traffic citation. Many people aren't afraid to tell us how we've ruined their day and those who don't tell us directly, anonymously submit colorfully written editorials to our office. 

Our job requires restraint, patience and a whole lot of moral courage. It's not easy and it's certainly not for everyone, but across the years and miles of my career, I've worked with what I truly believe to be the best group of Airmen our Air Force has to offer. 

I've watched them stand post in the freezing rain or scorching sun for hours without complaint. I've seen them board a C-130 bound for distant airstrips in hostile territory to ensure a newly free people can exercise their right to vote. I've watched them arrive at the scene of an accident and literally breathe life into victims. I've watched them support convoy operations with our sister services in places few can imagine against an often unseen enemy. I've watched them leave for war and been there when they didn't come home. 

All of this I have done with overwhelming pride in them, their sacrifices and their many successes. 

Every commander should be so lucky.