Initial Defense

  • Published
  • By Bennie J. Davis III
  • Airman Magazine


In an austere location on the other side of globe, unrest breaks out between rival factions and the situation quickly becomes hostile. The U.S. Air Force and its Global Response Force squadrons are called into action.

In less than 96 hours, more than 40 uniquely trained Airmen parachute into the location establishing initial perimeter security and communications. Hours behind them are the capabilities to establish a fully functioning bare base equipped with a tactical operations center for command and control, armored transportation, weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, meals, ground communications and shelter.

This scenario is tailor-made to showcase the capabilities and skills of Airmen assigned to the 820th Base Defense Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

“Establishing that perimeter security is what allows us to go ahead and establish that footprint from which we can go ahead and expand,” said Tech. Sgt. Geovanii Pacheco, Combat Operations Squadron tactical training NCO. “From there, we keep expanding those base operations, maintaining communications, until we can actually open up a large enough airfield to get more Air Force assets on the ground and continue on the mission in an austere environment.”

The 820th BDG comprises the 822nd, 823rd and 824th Base Defense Squadrons and the 820th Combat Operations Squadron, whose mission is to provide high-risk force protection and integrated base defense for expeditionary air forces.

The 820th COS encompasses a range of other Air Force specialty codes, which are fully integrated into the operational squadrons and training of the 820th BDG, to include: medics, engineers, intelligence, communications and more. All these career fields come together so the individual base defense squadrons can accomplish their mission without relying on outside help and resources.

“We take a great deal of pride in being the United States Air Force’s sole Base Defense Group. What makes us unique is that there are 12 Air Force Specialty Codes embedded in each Base Defense Squadron. Each one of them are all Defenders first and are trained to the same standard as our Security Forces members. From an AF enterprise level, we buy the Air Component Commander time by being able to deploy highly trained, fully integrated defense capabilities within 96 hours,” said Colonel Kevin Walker, Commander, 820th Base Defense Group.

Each operational squadron has 6-month rotations through deployments, Global Response Force taskings and home station training and reconstitution. Each squadron can also be tailored to meet mission needs.

“What we do is actually doing the job everyday that’s conducted downrange. So patrols, mounted operations, dismounted operations and conducting perimeter security. This is what we do every day and allows us to become extremely proficient in the job that is required by the combatant commanders downrange,” said Pacheco. “This is what separates us from the rest of the security forces in the Air Force.”

The group is unique among the Air Force security forces community in that it has no home station law enforcement requirements, allowing its Airmen to train constantly for a very specific mission.

Another unique aspect of the 820th BDG’s mission downrange is that they are directly partnered with the 105th Base Defense Squadron, based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.

The units have deployed together ten times.

These partner-deployments outside the wire during combat operations have strengthened trust and created bonds between the Airmen.

“I think that we’re the only security forces squadrons that have that kind of relationship with a guard unit where we constantly deploy with each other, maintaining that rapport, that relationship,” said Pacheco. “So when we get down range, it’s seamless operations and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in security forces and that’s what makes us special.”

Outside of the unique relationships, the specialty training really makes the 820th BDG stand out.

Pacheco says one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is ensuring the Airman of the 820th BDG are attending the various training and specialty schools to qualify them to conduct their missions and maintain proficiencies.

Due to the nature of their mission, a majority of the training is conducted at Army schools including Airborne, Ranger, Air Assault and Army Sniper.

The unit recently integrated another unique capability only found at the 820th BDG with the addition of an operations explosive ordnance disposal capability.

“We are the only EOD teams attached to a security forces ‘first-in’ airborne capable team,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Pfannenstiel, 820th EOD program manager and the 823rd BDS team leader. “We provide the capability to identify, neutralize and mitigate counter-improvised explosive devices, as well as chemical, biological, and nuclear explosive threats, so that the base defense squadrons can continue their freedom of movement throughout the battle space.”

Pfannenstiel explained there would be teams of two EOD Airmen assigned to each of the three operational squadrons. His role is to build the program from the acquisition of personnel to equipment.

“Any battle space you go to nowadays you’re going to encounter some sort of chemical, biological and or explosive threat no matter what,” said Pfannenstiel.

He added, before EOD was incorporated into the 820th BDG, if an operational squadron found a possible threat they would have to wait hours, if not days, for EOD assets owned by another commander to be released to take care of the incident.

“Wherever we go, bad guys follow,” said Pfannenstiel. “Having us on board being able to neutralize those threats is something very appealable to combatant commanders, while also evolving the capabilities of the (820th) BDG.”

Evolving is something the 820th BDG has continued to do to fulfill the integrated base defense mission since it’s activation in 1997 as the formally known 820th Security Forces Group.

Like many great concepts, the idea of the unit started as an idea written on the back of a bar napkin.

The tactics of the 820th BDG began in South Vietnam when highly successful guerrilla attacks compelled the Air Force to transform the standard practice of airbase ground defense into an aggressive defense force capable of detecting and stopping attacks on the base from outside the wire. Designated as Operation Safeside, the new initiative required new techniques to create the “active defense” concept, which proved to be successful.

Today the 820th BDG is well beyond the wire with the ability of setting up and securing an airfield anytime, anywhere.

The concept is a part of adaptive basing, the ability to project, defend and sustain forces that are able to generate the combat power needed to conduct operations in non-permissive environments.

The Airman of the 820th BDG are already training and developing the tactics, technologies and leaders they need to ensure success in future adaptive basing missions.

“In the next five to 10 years I imagine the 820th (BDG) will be utilized in different locations and in different scenarios that have never been thought of concerning security forces,” said Pacheco. “We’ll be ready for any scenario, that’s the legacy of the 820th (BDG).”