As Staff Sgts. Larry Knoll and Ace Jones drove down the dirt road, the knobby tires of their all-terrain vehicles kicked up huge clouds of dust.
Goggles, strapped over their Kevlar helmets, covered their eyes. They wore gloves and heavy flak vests, over which an assortment of gear hung from the belts of their load-bearing equipment. And they had stubby M-4s the latest type of M-16 assault rifle slung over their shoulders.
The security forces airmen wore the tools of their trade. Friends and partners, they knew well how to handle their steel, plastic and rubber steeds on the bumpy road at Bashur Airfield, Iraq, an outpost 255 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
They stopped near a row of tents, got off their vehicles and dusted themselves off. Around them, airmen sat on cots outside their canvas abodes, chatting and spooning down Meals, Ready to Eat. And after a long day on the job, the rations were looking mighty tasty to Knoll and Jones.
What a day. Weve been busy since we got up, said Knoll, who has been a security cop his whole 10-year Air Force career. Its going to feel good to get off my feet for a while.
But after 14 hours on the job, there was a chance they might not get any rest. At any moment they could get the call to switch to their other persona snipers.
Not the kind in Hollywood movies who sneak into the countryside to spend weeks stalking an enemy for that one shot, one kill moment. No. Knoll and Jones are quick to say theyre first of all security troops whose job is to protect their fellow airmen.
Well do whatever it takes to keep our troops safe, said Knoll, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
At Bashur hub of the Air Force airlift into northern Iraq at the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom that meant doing grunt work. Going on perimeter and off-base patrols, standing guard at entry control points and building defensive firing positions.
Not a problem. Its exactly what the pair trained to do. What they expected when they joined the Air Force to be security troops. They love the lifestyle. Plus, when they volunteered for duty with the 86th Contingency Response Group, they knew that to really do their job theyd have to be at a bare base in the middle of a fight somewhere.
Theyre in a unique unit, the only one in the Air Force. The groups job is to be the first to land at a bare base to establish airfield and aerial port operations pronto. The 786th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, where Knoll and Jones work in operations, provides the security. The cops keep airmen safe as they land, unload and launch aircraft around the clock.
A sharp eye
However, Knoll and Jones never stopped scanning the surrounding mountains an instinct theyd developed during sniper training. With a snipers sharp eye, they looked for an unseen enemy. A mobile and elusive foe who, if unstopped, could attack and kill squadron mates and cause havoc with flight operations.