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Security forces airmen under Global Strike Command are tasked with one of the Air Force's most important missions: protecting the nation's nuclear arsenal.
But until last month, the training for these airmen was limited in class size and held in World War II-era buildings in remote Wyoming. On Dec. 13, the Air Force opened its new, $4.2 million Nuclear Security Tactics Training Center in Guernsey, Wyo., which provides a needed increase in training capacity and areas for more specialized training for the airmen who guard the nation's nukes.
"Our weapons system is more than just the missile or re-entry vehicle," said Col. Scott Fox, vice commander of 20th Air Force and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Task Force 214 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., about 100 miles south of Guernsey. "This is making sure our defenders have the training they need and that they maintain it."
The Air Force began training security forces airmen in the nuclear community at Camp Guernsey in 2005. The Wyoming Army National Guard post offered 1930s- and '40s-era buildings for classroom training. It was adequate, but class sizes were constrained, said Maj. Jay Parsons, commander of the 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron.
Early on in the training, Air Force officials noticed there was a need for a more formal curriculum for security forces airmen and the specific positions they hold, Fox said.
The new 77,000-square-foot facility lets airmen learn in real classrooms and allows all seven courses to be in one place. Along with classroom learning, airmen participate in a tactical leadership course, the annual Road Warrior convoy course exercise, a course on breaching and entering a contested area, nuclear advanced marksmanship training, training on weapons such as grenade launchers, and training with helicopter crews, Parsons said. The new facility will let airmen go through live-fire training, and not just in ranges.
"The jobs they do are unique," Fox said. "And they have unique training required."
The original training center could handle only 100 airmen at a time. Now, four times that many can take the courses. Last year, 790 airmen made it through the training, and that number is expected to rise.
Global Strike Command has 4,588 security forces airmen supporting ICBM and bomber nuclear-related missions, with about 3,090 assigned to ICBM wings, said Lt. Col. Oliver Towns, chief of Global Strike's operations and training branch.
"The big thing is, our overall goal is to touch as many nuclear security forces airmen in Global Strike" as possible, Parsons said. "With the increase in capacity with both instructors and students, this will allow us to do that, and allow us to do it in a facility that is world-class."
The Air Force has made nuclear security a top mission since Air Force Global Strike Command stood up in 2009, following a series of missteps involving the mishandling of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear mission needs to be the Air Force's top priority, chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at an Air Force Association conference in September. "We have 36,000 airmen every day who worry about the nuclear mission," Welsh said. "It's a big deal for us; we can't afford to ever get this wrong."