Magazine article National Defense

Air Force Team Tests Field Equipment for Deployment

Magazine article National Defense

Air Force Team Tests Field Equipment for Deployment

Article excerpt

An Air Force security unit has created a small division to test and evaluate new equipment for its airmen headed for Iraq.

The 820th Security Forces Group, headquartered at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., has established a combat-development division to look for battlefield gear and make sure that it works before making a purchase.

The 820th is the first Air Force unit designed specifically to perform a wide range of force-protection missions, explained a spokesman, Capt. Gary E. Arasin Jr. It was formed in 1997--after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia--to provide highly trained, rapidly deployable security for any Air Force unit in the world.

The 820th consists of three squadrons, the 822nd, 823rd and 824th, Arasin told National Defense. It includes nearly 700 personnel in 26 career fields, such as security, intelligence, communications, explosive ordnance disposal, disaster preparedness, medicine, civil engineering, transportation, logistics and personnel.

Traditionally, Air Force security forces act as their service's military police, but in current combat operations, the 820th does much more than that, Arasin said.

The group's primary mission "is to establish airfield security in a deployed environment," he said. Its members "are the first Air Force security units to operate 'outside the fence'--a role typically filled by the Army.

"That means they actually go beyond the fence line to track down insurgents who target airbases," Arasin said. Air Force security forces are combat trained and authorized, when necessary, to use lethal force.

In recent years, personnel from the 820th have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Djibouti. Most recently they provided security to hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

The three group's squadrons operate on a rotating schedule. "At any one time, one squadron is deployed, one is training for deployment and one is reconstituting from a deployment," Arasin said.

The combat development division was established in October 2005. It includes just two men, and "we're pretty busy," said Tech. Sgt. Dennis Parks, the non-commissioned officer in charge.

The division's job is to make sure that when the group's personnel deploy, they have the necessary equipment. That includes "pretty much everything," anything from a new style of boot to desert-friendly eyewear to non-lethal weapons, Parks said.

"Some of the things we are looking at are classified," he cautioned. He was able, however, to discuss some of the unit's interests.

One priority is eyewear. "The sunglasses and goggles we are using right now aren't working very well in Iraq," Parks said. "The glue that holds them together melts in the desert heat, and they pretty much fall apart." The division is searching for alternatives. In other action, the team has:

* Replaced the group's previous generation of flak vests with more recent body armor from RBR Tactical Armor Inc., of Richmond, Va. The new version offers Level IV protection against rifle fire.

* Acquired the advanced combat helmet (ACH) from Gentex Corporation, of Carbondale, Pa., in place of the Persian Gulf War-era Kevlar model. The ACH is the helmet currently used by the Army. It is 3.5 pounds lighter than the Kevlar version. …

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