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Security at Air Force bases, recruiting stations is moving forward, general says

Airmen are better protected against an armed assailant than they were at the time the Chattanooga shootings unfolded, said Lt. Gen. John Cooper, Air Force deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection at the Pentagon.

"All the efforts we've taken this last year, if I look back one year, our airmen are safer today than they were a year ago," Cooper told Air Force Times July 29.

Since an an American-born Muslim opened fire at a recruiting station and reserve center in Chattanooga last July, the priority has been to protect service members across all Defense Department facilities, including recruiting centers.

"Our first level of focus after the Chattanooga shootings last year was to focus on our recruiting centers because those were the targets in Chattanooga, and we have over 1,000 total force locations for recruiting. It was a big effort to immediately figure out how we would improve [those] force protections," Cooper said.

Cooper said immediate funding went toward lower level, but important security measures such as closed-circuit televisions, preventative fences, bullet resistant film for glass, and peephole enhancements on doors, most of which is in place at centers now.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently published a solicitation looking for a company to install cubical walls that provide ballistic protection at about 900 recruiting facilities across 70 metropolitan areas for all of the military services, according to a federal notice to businesses. The physical security improvements would cost the Defense Department $80 million.

"One thing that has slowed down, is the ballistic protection, it's been hard to get [because] you have to wait to get that manufactured, delivered and installed, but we've taken every effort to buy it, and now it's just a matter of getting that into our recruiting system," Cooper said. "These are going to be someplace where an airman, soldier, Marine, sailor, will be, and there's [also] going to be a type of curtain, office-furniture type curtain they can just drop behind and it can protect up to a certain caliber from going through."

Facilities outside traditional Air Force bases are getting similar upgrades, Cooper said, without disclosing particular details, but said that because of the number of facilities that are in the process of receiving upgrades, the process should be complete within the next six to eight months.

"We're solving a lot of that with process," he said "[because] we have a three big lines of effort: stuff we're going to buy that will be installed to protect airmen ... and the basic philosophy that the Air Force has adopted, and we're moving out on most bases, is giving commanders the maximum flexibility to allow airmen to self-arm."

Air Force leaders in January announced three programs that allow more airmen to carry weapons in the workplace.

Since the attacks in Chattanooga, more than 35 installations have implemented one of the three programs, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Air Force times in July.

Unit Marshal, the newest of the three programs, gives hand-selected airmen permission to work with security forces that train them to open carry an M9 pistol in their duty location. Security Forces Staff Arming enables more security forces members — who have the appropriate Air Force specialty code and who work in staff billets at the squadron, group, wing or major command — to carry a government-issued weapon while on duty with the approval of the installation commander. That program is similar to the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act program, which allows service members with civilian law enforcement jobs to carry personal weapons on military installations without violating DoD or federal laws.

"Our programs are ... providing training and guidance that balances safety with the need to deliver additional security by providing additional armed personnel as they deem necessary," Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews said last month.

The third effort, Cooper said, is the mass warning and communication system.

"You can picture an amber alert on your cell phone, and we've had these programs and applications for a while, and we're focusing on making them available to airmen and working on a command and control to notify airmen quickly if there's a problem," Cooper said.

Today, that system, once taking 10 to 15 minutes to send an alert of an active shooter, now can routinely send alerts to service members in as little as five minutes, he said, "and we're looking to shrink that even further." It includes communication with local law enforcement.

"About a year ago, we really started with [first] working with local law enforcement ... so that we can ensure we can leverage local law enforcement as well as help [them] and the community with warnings and notifications," Cooper said.

Every few months, the bases, along with the local police communities, practice using the warning system, as applied to a mass shooter or mass casualty drill.

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.

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