My day as a 10th SFS augmentee: A perpective on serving, protecting, doing 'what's right'

Defensor Fortis (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Defensor Fortis (U.S. Air Force graphic)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- I checked to make sure the Beretta 9 mm and tactical baton were still firmly strapped to my web belt before taking a step outside. The air felt like tiny pinpricks of glass imbedded in my lungs with every breath, shards of cold from the first frigid snap of winter here.

The world still held the soft gray color of just past dawn. It was Saturday, Nov. 15 at the Academy. It was early. I hadn't had nearly enough coffee to feel up to facing the day as a 10th Security Forces Squadron augmentee.

But regardless of how little coffee I managed to gulp down before arming up, the day was starting. The Air Force Falcons were playing Nevada State for one of the last home games of the year, and I volunteered to help lighten the load of security forces as the base flooded with visitors.

The wind beat an annoying staccato rhythm against my face as I walked over to a security forces Airman wearing pounds of gear, including body armor, much more comfortably than I. He also wore a face mask, which I came to envy greatly over the coming hours. I was ready to learn how to check identification cards, how to tell to tell the real from fake.

One of the first things I noticed about directing traffic at the South Gate was the unexpected kindness of those passing through. On occasion, those entering the base would offer coffee or hot chocolate to the defenders braving the elements. 

Security forces is probably one of the more physically demanding careers I know of - the sheer exposure to the elements and time these Airmen spend on their feet outpaces my own job by a long shot. But the kindness some people show can make up for some of the hardships.

The second thing I noticed was the camaraderie. The Airmen I worked with looked out for each other. I was on duty through a 10 SFS shift change, when three new Airmen came to the gate to work. Another Airman stopped by soon afterward and brought all of them coffee. A simple gesture, it made a cold and windy shift so much easier.

Security forces Airmen also knew each other so well. They work long shifts all the time, always with individuals drawn from the same flight of Airmen. They form a family - based on inside jokes, competition and, like all families, the occasional sarcastic exchange. But despite the sporadic rivalry, there is an overarching pride in the job they do. They may often be cold, they may often be tired, but they are always proud of the job they're able to do.

It was inspiring to see Airmen as new to the Air Force as I am working so hard to stand out. We were on free-flow during most of the game, which meant the gates were opened to thousands of Falcon Football fans. We conducted the occasional quick inspection on vehicles. Between this, the Airmen studied their Career Development Courses, or cleaning out the entry facility. They could have been on their phones, they could have sat complaining. But instead, they worked toward something better.

Throughout the 13-hour shift, I watched them clean, study and send cars off with a cheerful "Have a nice day!" It reminded me we all have a part to play in making the Air Force great. With force management, we have to rely on fewer individuals to get the job done - so it's even more important to go above and beyond. Excellence in all we do doesn't mean we can just tick the boxes to get the job done. It's not enough for me to just do my job - I need to do my best to excel at my job. Because that's why we're all here.

And so as the day got colder and colder, and snowflakes began to slink down from the sky, I felt a new determination. I knew my chances of mastering security forces in my remaining hours on duty were zero. But I could throw my heart behind it, even when, yes, I saluted an officer's spouse. Twice. Because it's so much more important to try as hard as I can to do what I is right than to fail because I didn't think it was important enough.