U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
If safety isn’t your concern at graduation ceremonies or Falcons football games, thank a cop.
Specifically, the 10th Security Forces Squadron, as they handle safety concerns for us. They’re why more than 500,000 annual spectators can watch those Div I sporting events and graduation ceremonies without worry.
The 10th SFS, the 10th Civil Engineer Fire Department, the 21st Space Wing CE Explosive Ordnance Flight at Peterson Air Force Base, 10th Medical Group medical personnel, the command post and other civilian and military agencies, are ready to respond should anything go awry.
“Our teamwork extends well beyond the base and involves a host of military and civilian agencies that combine their talents to provide the best and the safest event possible,” said Col. Patrick Carley, 10th Air Base wing vice commander. “We host these events, but the mutual cooperation and support shared by El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs and the military installations in the Front Range is why they’re successful and safe.”
But, the 10th SFS is really the first of the first responders at these events, because they’re already there before the spectacle begins, sweeping the area for security deficiencies and serving to stop anyone with less than law-abiding intent. They also remain at the stadium after the last car has left to sweep and clear the stadium again
This is important because we know large gatherings catch the interest of terrorist groups. They’ve admitted it. Last month, the Islamic State took credit for a bombing that killed 22 at pop star Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester, England. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a trio of coordinated blasts in 2015 that killed 129 people and wounded another 352 at six locations across Paris. On a recurring basis, terrorist attacks and bombings grab headlines around the world.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Szoboszlay, 10th SFS operations superintendent, assists in organizing security for large-scale events in Falcon Stadium.
“Above all, security for the spectators, our base populace and resources, are our top concerns,” he said. “It’s a rare security mission and a great opportunity. I don’t think anyone questions how much work goes into to making an event successful. Events are ‘all in,’ and it’s awesome to see how the entire installation comes together.”
On average, 25,000-35,000 fans attend each Falcon football home game. The typical graduation ceremony sees a crowd of 30,000-35,000. Safely hosting these crowds keeps Szoboszlay and his coworkers on their toes.
“Preparation for the next graduation begins right after the current graduation finishes,” he said.
The squadron reevaluates each event almost immediately after the parking lot empties, looking for security gaps and ways to improve. They also work with federal and civilian agencies, including the Colorado Springs Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department.
“The assistance of local law enforcement really comes in handy when high-level government officials attend the graduation ceremony,” Szoboszlay said. “Their involvement is fundamental to the success of these events.”
When a U.S. president or, as was the case this year, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attends a graduation ceremony, the base defenders ratchet-up their protection capabilities.
“This has the potential, depending on the speaker, to change the security environment of the event, driving more stringent requirements,” he said.
When it comes to the graduation ceremonies, it’s a guarantee almost every Airman assigned to the 10th SFS will be out and about, including Senior Airman Branden Turner and his Belgian malinois, “Graig,” and the squadron’s other military working dog teams who “sweep” the stadium before and after events, protect the stage area and monitor the crowd.
“I’m very prideful when it comes to my job,” said Turner, who said MWD teams represent a physical and psychological deterrent to criminals. “It’s one very few people in the Defense Department and civilian world are able to do.”
Engaging with thousands might seem like a daunting task, but Szoboszlay said the men and women of the 10th SFS are more than prepared for any situation, good or bad. They welcome the chance to interact with the public they protect, he said.
“Each interaction with the public is an opportunity to showcase our capabilities, secure the base and represent the Academy in a polite, professional and courteous manner,” Szoboszlay said.
The next time you’re in a hurry to find your seat at the stadium and these Airmen inspect your items or scan you with a metal detector, remember that one person, a stadium security guard at the Stade de France, stopped a terrorist wearing a suicide vest from getting inside.
“We maintain a very proactive approach to public safety,” Szoboszlay said.
It’s a good thing they do.