MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
More than 8,000 personnel work at Moody every day and it’s up to only a few 23d Security Force Squadron (SFS) Airmen to protect them along with the more than $2.6 billion of assets on base.
Installation entry controllers serve as the first line of defense, keeping Moody’s assets and personnel safe from potential threats.
“Nobody can carry out their duties and responsibilities without being in a safe environment,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Bonello, 23d SFS NCO in charge of operations. “Our installation entry controllers [keep us secure] daily and allow the 23d Wing to continue to do their mission. If they weren't there, there would always be a constant threat.”
Maintaining the security of the base is accomplished through personnel verification and threat deterrence.
The first step involves entry authorization procedures such as ID verification and plain view searches.
“Every morning the guards check and validate every personnel coming on base to make sure they're not on any debarment and revocation rosters,” Bonello said. “They look to see if that information matches what's on the actual card itself, if the individual matches the card and everything lines up.
“[The guards] are not just verifying whether the individual is authorized to be on base, but they’re also doing a plain view search of the vehicle itself,” Bonello added. “With that it could be something that's as easily identifiable as an open container of alcohol.”
Threat deterrence is the fail safe and involves secondary measures that keep Moody safe.
“Obviously, we have fencing around the whole installation,” Bonello said. “We have the gate check itself, and we have other measures like spike strips, speed bumps and force protection barriers to provide additional support so the [guards] can carry out their duties.”
Every Airman that wears the beret and badge must first go through extensive training where they are equipped with the skills necessary to keep Moody safe.
“Initially, when [Airmen] get here, they go through Phase 1 and 2 training,” Bonello said. “During Phase 1 training they get pepper sprayed, go through a taser class and a baton course. That way, the Airmen have non-lethal tools at their disposal and make sure they are using proper force at the appropriate level.
“In Phase 2, they look through the commander's regulation of how to uphold his operation instructions for the position of gate guard,” Bonello added. “They’ll study it and utilize the information, applying it through exercises. Then once they are fully trained up, within 45 days, they're evaluated. Once they pass they'll be officially certified installation entry controllers. No matter if you're an airman basic or a major, everybody has that foundation to work the gate.”
Those duties include procedures that every gate guard has to take to get ready for their shift, which can start as early as five in the morning.
“The Airmen will arm up with their required duty gear,” Bonello said. “The flight chief will come in and a conduct a guard mount, giving them everything they're required to need to know. They'll then post up at their location, and they'll do changeover with off-going [guards], conducting a full inspection of the gate facility and vehicles, ensuring that everything is still in compliance with safety and regulation. Once that is completed, and they say that the inspection is done and any discrepancies are noted and channeled up to command, then they'll assume post, and the other personnel will leave. They’ll then log into the scanner system to be able to verify IDs. When their shift is complete, they'll do the same thing as when they first arrived for changeover.”
Shifts at the gate can last up to 12 hours at times, but for some Airmen, realizing their purpose keeps them going.
“Being on the gate all day can be tough at times, but when I see a family come through, I remember why I'm doing this: to keep them safe,” said Airman 1st Class Darwin Barron, 23d SFS installation entry controller. “I would feel terrible if some threat was able to get on base and do harm to others, so I want to make sure nothing like that happens. A calm day for us is a good day for Moody because it means we're doing our job right.”
Down times at the gate provide an opportunity for leadership to help the Airmen with their training, but also to help foster resiliency through the supervisor to subordinate relationship.
“[Leadership] will throw exercises on them,” Bonello said. “We'll go over [career development course] material with them, assisting them with any questions. We'll also do post rotations to give the Airmen time with their supervisor, because a lot of supervisors are patrolling the base. They can have one-on-one conversations to help foster resiliency, and get more involved with their Airmen.”
Contrary to popular belief, Bonello says the guards are able to help beyond checking ID cards, and they have a deep pride in the duty they have earned.
“The biggest thing that people get wrong about gate guards is that they're not only there to authorize your entry, but they're there to help as well,” Bonello said. “If you have a concern, you’ve got somebody right there who can provide assistance for you.
“A lot of people think that it's not enjoyable being outside checking IDs, but when you talk to a defender, and you talk about our heritage and what they're entrusted to do, they're proud to do it,” Bonello said. “Defenders are proud to wear the badge and beret no matter if it's raining, snowing or if it's that typical Georgia heat. We're proud to be out there. The standards are always high when it comes to being a defender. I think each defender tries to meet that standard every single day and do the best they can.”