There is a group of airmen in the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron who get a view of Afghanistan that few ever see.
They man the multiple defense towers that ring the base perimeter, armed with powerful binoculars and other hi-tech surveillance gear, looking out into the local community and watching for any threats.
“They’re responsible for watching all avenues of approach, watching for anything out of the ordinary and reporting it up,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Bruin, 455th ESFS area supervisor.
Of course, the airmen have lethal force available if they need it, but they also have other tools at their disposal, such as the ability to call in a linguist to speak to interlopers who stray too close to the perimeter.
“We try to get the interpreter out there to persuade them to go away and it usually works,” Bruin said.
Capt. Lidia Iyassu, 455th ESFS Alpha Sector officer in charge, described other nonlethal deterrents that use different types of ammunition. However, before deploying these tools, the airmen met with local civic leaders to head off any potential problems.
“We had a meeting with the village elders,” Iyassu said. “We made sure they understood what the impact was, and it’s been very helpful.”
Airman 1st Class Lee Borytsky, 455th ESFS defender, said that the towers are seen differently depending on what side of the fence a person is on.
“To people off base, the towers are a symbol of deterrence; they see us… they know we’re highly vigilant,” he said. “We’re here to protect Bagram and keep people who aren’t supposed to come in, out.”
On the other hand, to the local people who come on to the base to work, Borytsky said the towers are a symbol of security.
“They know that they’re safe when they’re on [base],” he said.
Bruin echoed Borytsky’s thoughts.
“We’re here for their safety too,” he said, “we’re watching over them as much as we’re watching our own people.”
To fulfill those dual roles of deterrence and security, the tower sentries work long shifts and have to be on their toes as long as they’re on duty.
“We do battle drills where the area supervisor will come to your post and ask you questions, and mentally you think of the situation and how you’ll handle it,” Borytsky said, adding that the drills have helped during real-world situations where his training is put to the test.
“It keeps you sharp so you can be quick on your feet and make decisions,” he said.
Despite the long hours, Iyassu is very proud of the positive attitude the airmen she oversees display on a daily basis as they work to keep the base secure.
“Every day they’re smiling and completing their mission and wanting more,” she said. “They’re phenomenal.”
Article by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing