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Security forces: One strike and you're out

As security forces competition gets tougher, AF loses patience with mistakes

Jul. 26, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A security forces airman keeps watch at an entry control point at Akrab Air Base in the fictitious Kingdom of Nessor during Exercise Eagle Flag at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
A security forces airman keeps watch at an entry control point at Akrab Air Base in the fictitious Kingdom of Nessor during Exercise Eagle Flag at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wilson / Air Force)
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Competition for security forces jobs is getting tougher, and the Air Force no longer has any patience for screw-ups.

Security forces airmen are increasingly bearing the brunt of the cash-strapped Air Force as it attempts to reduce its enlisted ranks through date-of-separation rollbacks. Between 2004 and 2007, about 11 percent or 12 percent of airmen separated under rollbacks were security forces. But beginning in 2010, that percentage started to rise, until they represented about 18 percent of all rollbacks in 2012, and in the first round of 2013 rollbacks in May.

About the same time, security forces became increasingly overmanned, and have been at 105 percent capacity for the last three years. Chief Master Sgt. Stephen White, the enlisted career field manager for security forces, said in a July 12 interview that the security force’s retention rate also is about 124 percent of what the Air Force wants it to be.

That has put the security forces on the overmanned list for NCO retraining and re-enlistment opportunities, forcing mid-career 3P0X1 airmen to retrain into other jobs to stay in the Air Force, and first-term airmen to compete for limited slots when it’s time to re-enlist.

And the tougher competition for jobs means that the Air Force is cracking down on security forces airmen who step out of line.

“We are a police force, and as a police force, we enforce the laws, and we expect our airmen to uphold those very same laws,” White said. “If it is found they conducted themselves improperly, we hold them accountable, and punish them fairly but swiftly. That’s kind of who this is targeting [through rollbacks] — airmen who have stumbled along the way.”

The ranks of Air Force security forces grew swiftly in the decade following 9/11, and peaked last August at 27,411 before starting a gradual decline. According to Air Force statistics, the career field has been manned at 105 percent since 2011.

Commanders have the option of sparing their airmen from rollbacks, in some cases, if they feel an airman deserves a second chance. But these days, White said, commanders in the security forces field have little incentive to do so. A misbehaving security forces airman who is spared a rollback could end up taking a re-enlistment slot that could have gone to a more-deserving airman who has stayed on the straight and narrow, he said.

If “one of my airmen is on this rollback sheet, and I have the option of perhaps changing their code to allow them to stay, I know that they are going to compete now with the airmen who haven’t gotten in any trouble and, in theory, could possibly take one of those enlistment spots that are very sought after right now,” White said.

Roughly two-thirds of security forces airmen who have been separated under DOS rollbacks were pushed out for punitive reasons, the Air Force said.

White said the Air Force isn’t using rollbacks to push out more security forces airmen due to the end of the war in Iraq and the looming drawdown in Afghanistan. The wars have drawn vital security forces away from Air Force installations stateside, which didn’t get additional manpower to fill those gaps.

As a result, White said, stateside installations have struggled and, in some cases, extended security forces’ shifts to deal with the understaffing problem. And when those airmen return, their home stations are pleased to have them back.

“It’s painful while they’re gone,” White said.

White also said the Air Force has always been able to easily recruit new security forces, which further tightens the job market.

“There are a lot of young men and women out there that want to come in and get the experience as a military police officer,” White said. “Some want to do it so they can get out and pursue that in the civilian community when they’re old enough, usually 21. Quite a few decide to make it a career.

“I think that’s a good thing that we have so many that want to stay,” he said. “The unfortunate part is, as the Air Force is drawing down, our career field is also.”

Although security forces are making up more and more of the rollback separations, White said it is still an extremely viable career field.

“We’re allowing quite a few to stay,” he said. “We just can’t allow all of them to stay.”

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