Bring on the Revitalization

Lt Col, USAF, SAF, HAF, PA, LL

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Lt. Col. David Knight, 21st Security Forces Squadron commander, took command of the 21st SFS on May 31, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A few weeks ago, I took command of the 21st Security Forces Squadron. It is an incredible honor to lead such an extraordinary group of people. Prior to my arrival at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, I served as the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein’s legislative advisor in Washington, D.C. In that position, I was able to personally witness the development of his three focus areas, one of which is revitalizing squadrons.

For over 15 years, the major focus on America’s armed forces has been on countering violent extremism. That necessity has resulted in considerable trades across many Air Force portfolios, especially our manpower accounts. Many tasks that were once completed by Airmen have been relegated to self-help links or checklists, however, security and law enforcement are two functions that are not easily automated. As a result, Security Forces – the Air Force’s largest enlisted career field – has had to bear an incredible deployment tempo, manpower shortages and long working hours. Goldfein’s focus on revitalizing squadrons could not come at a better time for my Defenders.

I recently sat down with one of my flight chiefs, let’s call her “Kelly.” Kelly’s day begins at 2:45 a.m. Her husband and four kids are still asleep, so she quietly showers and gets dressed. At 3:30 a.m., she leaves her home on U.S. Air Force Academy and commutes to Peterson AFB. She arrives at 4:15 a.m. and begins her pre-posting tasks while the rest of her flight begins arming up for duty. At 5 a.m., the flight is formed-up for guardmount; a formal roll-call where announcements are given and the day’s events are briefed.

Guardmount breaks at 5:30 a.m., and the Airmen are driven out to their posts – their home for the next 12 hours…no medical appointments, no personal errands, etc. – all the things I, and many of us, take for granted every day. There will be no easing into the day either because in the next three hours, over 13,000 vehicles will traverse through Peterson AFB’s gates. With three gates and 17 base augmentees to manage, Kelly scrambles between each gate to ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible.

The day presses on following the morning rush, and after 12 long hours, her relief arrives. She conducts a changeover and finishes up the day’s paperwork. By 6:15 p.m., her 14-hour day is complete and she races home. She arrives around 7 p.m., just in time to give her little ones a bath and read them a story. That single hour is all she will have with her kids today. At 8 p.m., she tucks them into bed, reheats her dinner, and crashes – sometimes too tired to take off her uniform. She is exhausted in the truest sense of the word. And in six hours, she has to do it all over again.

As she walked me through her day, it broke my heart. As leaders, we try to promote balance – striving for symmetry with work, family, spiritual and personal needs. While we all understand there are going to be days when the job comes first, 14-hour days have become normal operations for the unit over the past three years. This leaves my Airmen with very little time for family, pursuing education, volunteering, working out or personal time to just relax.

Needless to say, my number one priority is finding ways to provide balance for my Airmen. Until the manpower gains from Goldfein’s revitalization are realized, I have to take a hard look where we can gain some efficiencies. We recently reduced the hours at the North and East Gates to free up our manpower. While not a popular decision, we found the manpower required to keep those gates open into the evening was not worth the costs.

I appreciate and sympathize with the fact it is inconvenient to have to drive around to the West Gate after a commissary run or when returning to housing from an off-base trip, but I hope you will focus on the bigger picture. I want Kelly to see her kids today, and someday soon I’d like to hold my first commander’s call without having to call my Airmen in on their day off.

With this in mind, I thank you for your compassion and support for those who work very long hours to keep us all safe.