Bagram force protection program emphasizes the importance of vigilance
By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 05, 2013
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- There they stood, gathered outside the Base Exchange at 9 p.m. with flash lights in their gloved hands, as they prepare to walk to a destination here they had never been to.
These 120 volunteers contribute to decreasing the amount of contraband on the base by participating in an ongoing force-protection program known as Task Force Colonist. The program began with Provost Marshall in early 2012 and was later taken over by the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Office.
Captain David Embrey, 455th AEW Anti-Terrorism, Force Protection officer, said, "Task Force Colonist is a Force Protection effort aimed at detecting and preventing an inside attack. The all, volunteer search teams conduct random camp sweeps of third country national employees living quarters looking for unauthorized items such as drugs, uniform items and electronic devices. The program was established to enhance and augment security within the base perimeter and deter criminal or insider threat activity before it occurs."
The program is comprised of volunteers from all U.S. services here at Bagram Airfield. Air Force Security Forces personnel provide their expertise instructing volunteers on how to conduct a proper search and assist with compound security prior to and during each Task Force Colonist event.
Among the volunteers was Staff Sgt. Max Soto, 455th Expeditionary Security Force Group, military dog handler, deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
"My primary role during Task Force Colonist is to look for narcotics, but also all contraband as a whole," said Soto. "Since we started this initiative, my dog and I have had four drug finds amounting in over 296 grams."
During this operation, there are typically two dogs assisting the volunteers as they perform their searches. When volunteers find something suspicious, their role is to bring it to anti-terrorism/force protection personnel for further investigation.
"At home station we traditionally use our canines to help military police in identifying servicemembers or civilians trying to enter the base with illegal substances," said Soto, a native of San Jose, Calif. "The drugs found here lead to a broader spectrum protection that directly affects our mission in Afghanistan."
Aside from the narcotics, members of the task force identify and collect significant amounts of illegal contraband such as unauthorized cameras and cell phones. Often times, these electronic devices are found to have direct links to contacts outside the wire. However after the items are searched by the proper base authorities, if the items are deemed authorized, they are returned to the TCN's.
"This program is very manpower-driven and relies on volunteers for its execution and success," said Embrey, a native of Fairfax, Va., and deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "It also gives base members an inside look at the potential threats on base while affording them a way to directly impact the security on Bagram."
Senior Airman Michelle Saucier, deployed from 103rd Airlift Wing Connecticut Air National Guard was a first-time volunteer and on her first deployment.
"I think the Task Force Colonist program is very important to all base personnel because it assists in finding illegal and potentially dangerous items within OCN quarters," said Saucier, native of Eastford, Conn. "This program also helps demonstrate to everyone that there are rules and regulations here that must followed because they are actively enforced."
Although the searches are conducted on a random basis, that doesn't make it any less important than the other anti-terrorism programs.
Embrey concluded, "This initiative is important because it sends a strong signal to all base personnel that we have robust AT/FP programs here at Bagram, and that we are extremely proactive in our efforts to keep the base safe."