Outside its typical area of expertise dominating air, space, and cyberspace, the Air Force isn’t widely known for its capabilities that extend past its traditional mission set. Enter a relatively unknown Air Force capability: base defense.  Cross that capability with a special National Geographic production, and one of the Air Force’s “least acclaimed missions” is thrust into the spotlight.

In a recent 15 June premiere of National Geographic’s miniseries “Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand”, the Air Force’s base defense capability was highlighted as it followed a “unique group of Security Forces airmen whose main mission is to go outside the wire and protect expeditionary bases.”  In this NatGeo special, the film crews embed with “Reaper” teams of the 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

According to the Air Force Times, this new NatGeo episode features “Airmen from the 820th Base Defense Group at Moody AFB, Ga., and the 105th Base Defense Squadron (ANG) from Stewart, N.Y, during their latest deployment…[they] were documented during their hunt for Subhanullah, an insurgent operating around Bagram Airfield.”  The next airing of the special is Wednesday, 18 June at 9pm ET.

Reaper team on patrol in Afghanistan, courtesy of AF.mil
Reaper team on patrol in Afghanistan, courtesy of AF.mil

As SOFREP has previously reported, Air Force Security Forces (SF) are widely recognized as conducting primarily law enforcement-related work, in line with the Army Military Police or Navy Master-at-Arms.  However, there is an additional mission set that Air Force SF is capable of supporting, and that is highlighted in the Reapers’ base defense role in Afghanistan.

While the majority of Air Force SF units’ duties include writing tickets, riding in patrol cars, and fulfilling more traditional law enforcement functions, the airmen of the 820th Base Defense Group work to go outside the wire in order to ensure air operations at expeditionary bases can be conducted without enemy interruption.  The 820th Base Defense Group is unique to the Air Force in that it provides the Air Force’s only “worldwide deployable, ‘first-in’, fully integrated, multi-disciplined, highly qualified, self-sustaining force protection capability.”

During their deployment in support of this capability, the Reaper teams conducted three primary missions: counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED), counter-insurgency (COIN), and counter-indirect fire (C-IDF).  Reaper 5 team leader Master Sgt. Eddie Ray explained,

“At night our objective is primarily (to counter improvised explosive devices and indirect fire attacks), but during the day, we focus on presence patrols and engaging with locals to gauge the atmosphere in the area. The only way you’re going to defend (Bagram) is to reach out into the local community,” Ray said. “You’re not going to stop it all, but the goal is to disrupt them and force them to use different routes and methods.”

In order to successfully provide the Air Force with a ‘first-in’, fully integrated, and multi-disciplined force, airmen at the 820th Base Defense Group attend various training schools that qualify them to conduct their mission. A few of these schools include: Airborne, Ranger, Air Assault, Army Sniper, and several others.  While the majority of the 820th is comprised of Security Forces airmen, the unit also contains eleven other specialty codes that are fully integrated into operations and training, to include: communications, intelligence, medics, engineers, and others.