The military is ripe with their own acronyms; put a few veterans together and a language is spoken few civilians could truly follow. As interesting as the military language that is filled with acronym usage may be, sometimes, depending on one’s branch of service, one acronym may mean something different. In the case of the acronym “SF,” well, let’s just say there really are two different SFs in the American military.
In the Army, if one hears the acronym SF, they immediately assume Special Forces. But in the Air Force, if one hears SF, Security Forces is assumed. And whether anyone likes it or not, both SFs are special in their own right.
Of course the special operations community is well-known for its specializations, which include the Army’s Special Forces, but how specialized are the US Air Force Security Forces? By no means should Security Forces be considered a part of the special operations community but, as I said, it is a career that has exceptional opportunities for its members to get a taste of the SPECOPs life.
Air Force Security Forces do a lot more than just write tickets on military installations or detain drunk drivers trying to get back on the base on a late Friday evening after having one too many. Yes, they have a law enforcement side to them, but their real purpose in life is to serve as the Air Force’s infantry, securing airfields and working alongside other units in support roles.
During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Security Forces took on an array of operations outside their assigned air bases, and oftentimes did so alongside the US Army’s Special Forces or other special operations groups. “Operation Safeside” is a clear example. In fact, many Security Forces members quickly transformed from base security to outside-the-wire infantry.
How close did the Air Force Security Forces work alongside the special operations community? Ask any Army Special Forces member who was assigned to the esteemed Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) headquartered at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. But just to provide one example, read the following account of Security Forces taking on three battalions of Viet Cong fighters.
“Tan Son Nhut Air Base was home to 7th Air Force headquarters and the powerful Military Assistance Command Vietnam. During the early 1968 Tet Offensive, the Air Force’s 377th Security Squadron at Tan Son Nhut faced off against a night attack supported by three battalions of Viet Cong forces. Lead Viet Cong elements pierced the defenses of the air base, but the 377th stood as the main holding force until the next morning, when Army reinforcements arrived. Around the bunker where security forces made their stand were hundreds of Viet Cong dead.” (Air Force Magazine)
Even today, Air Force Security Forces continue to work alongside a plethora of special operators in places like Afghanistan. In fact, Eric Barrios has recently been featured in a few online media outlets for his service working in such a capacity.
Barrios might be one of the few well known Security Forces members who worked alongside the special operations community, but I assure you he is not the only one. In fact, few people realize that on that tiny little compound tucked deep between Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, commonly referred to as “The Hill,” there is a security liaison officer who comes from the Air Force Security Forces career field. Oh yeah, and the odds are, he is also a graduate of the US Army Airborne and Ranger courses.
Then again, if you looked closely at USSOCOM’s D-Cell, named in reference to its “Deployment Cell,” one would find a highly skilled and specialized unit of Security Forces assigned. For those not aware, D-Cell was formed in 1987 to support Joint Special Task Forces. It is headquartered today at MacDill Air Force Base.
I know many who were quick to speak un-intelligently when news broke a week or so ago about Senior Airman Stephen Becker, an Air Force Security Forces member who recently graduated Ranger School. Instead of congratulating him for being one of approximately 260 Security Forces members for graduating the Ranger course, people opened their mouths thinking it was some kind of joke.
Well, the joke is on those who lashed out, because I personally know of three Security Forces-qualified Rangers who were assigned to work at Fort Benning’s Ranger Training Battalion to serve as Ranger Instructors. Why? Because beyond Security Forces, the US Air Force has at least four other career fields where members have the opportunity to attend the prestigious Ranger course Combat Controllers, Pararescue, Tactical Air Control Party, and Combat Weather.
I mentioned the fact that some Security Forces members have attended airborne school, as well. Many have also attended Air Assault too. Some would say such schoolings are unnecessary and take opportunities away from Army personnel, but such logic goes against current DoD thinking.
The Marine Corps and the Army were getting strained due to the early Afghan war and politicians’ desires to enter a second war in 2003. To alleviate some of the stress placed on the Army and Marine Corps, US Air Force Security Forces were sent into Iraq (outside their air bases) as a combat force multiplier. In March 2003, the 786 SFS (now known as the 435th Security Forces Squadron) participated in a combat parachute drop into Bashur Airfield, in conjunction with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, to open up the northern front in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, Air Force Security Forces brought with them a highly respectable force that helped enable not only our coalition SOF element but also the conventional forces as well. They brought with them an airborne and air assault capability along with counter sniper teams and an array of trainers, mentors, and advisors—the latter being a task traditionally conducted by Army Special Forces.
Like all branches of our Armed Forces, the Air Force took its toll of casualties throughout our recent wars. The Security Forces career field is no different. In fact, one of forty or so triple amputees who came out of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars was a Security Forces member by the name of Brian Kolfage.
Make no mistake, Air Force Security Forces are special, but they surely aren’t Special Forces. But the career field is impressive to say the least, considering the vast amount of different tasks they perform day in and day out, ranging from traditional law enforcement duties, securing our nation’s nuclear weapon sites, to going on patrol with a team of Army Special Forces.
So, how impressive is the Air Force Security Forces career field? Don’t take it from me. No, instead, take it from US Army Ranger Hall of Fame inductee Max Mullen when he says, “These guys are hot! I’m very impressed. These guys are like a miniature Ranger Battalion. I don’t say this lightly but these guys are impressive.”