Story by SrA Benjamin Ingold on 07/30/2019Force Protection Airmen face unique challenges while deployed. Not only are they thousands of miles away from the comforts of home but they provide security to the base and protect vital military assets in hostile or contested areas. FP consists of augmentees, Airmen are pulled from their primary career fields to assist operations downrange.
I was granted the opportunity to deploy to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia as an FP augmentee and was immersed in a diverse mix of career fields and responsibilities.
When asked if I wanted to go downrange to perform a radically different role with a different type of unit, I could not resist.
I wanted to get closer to the tip of the spear and see the mission from a deployed perspective.
As a public affairs photojournalist, my responsibilities of telling the Air Force story through photos and words are very different from what I did as an FP escort.
On my first day of FP I discovered the different career fields making up the unit. I learned about Air Force jobs that I previously did not know existed. It was a humbling experience to realize there are so many Airmen making invaluable contributions to the mission who often go unnoticed.
FP Airmen primarily supervise contracted other country nationals as they work on Air Force installations. OCNs often work in dining and fitness facilities, operate the Exchange, and are also perform building construction and trash and recycling removal for the base.
One day I could be escorting OCNs on a detail with a fellow FP Airmen learning about what they do as a geospatial intelligence targeteer, learning about their specialized, intelligence-based career, and the next day could have a crew chief tell me about turning wrenches and maintaining systems on an aircraft I was completely unaware of. Operating effectively and working together with such a diverse group was a challenge at first, but with time we all began to understand and speak the language of FP.
Learning proper radio communication, coordinating convoys of people who did not speak fluent English and following the protocols of tracking the potentially hundreds of OCN's on base became everybody's new job and unified all the different Airmen.
The diversity of the team made a significant positive impact on a weekly basis due to the variety of Airmen from different career fields in the unit. When a vehicle had a mechanical problem, the ground transport operations Airman was able to use their expertise to get it fixed and back in operation faster. A team of structural maintenance Airmen efficiently and effectively assisted the team to repair a building after flood damage. An FP electrician by trade could perform preventative maintenance on systems allowing the base to have sound of mind and saving possible man-hours.
Seeing what people from different career fields brought to the table to enhance the team was an eye-opening experience. I left my deployment with a newfound respect for the power of having the right person in the right place at the right time. Our Air Force is full of hundreds of jobs many people rarely hear about, yet without them we could not execute the mission.
The diversity of experience and knowledge Airmen bring to the table allows for the Air Force to be a more ready and lethal force.