TUCSON, Ariz. -- They’re the first people you see when you arrive on base, they are the last you see when you leave, and even when you don’t see them, they stand vigilant, round the clock, to protect the 162nd Wing’s installation. They are the Defenders of the 162nd Security Forces Squadron, and recently, the Air Force saw that they were amongst the best of their kind.
Last year, the 162nd SFS earned the 2017 Air National Guard’s Outstanding Security Forces Award, and today, squadron leaders are in Norman, Oklahoma, to accept the 2017 United States Air Force Outstanding Security Forces Unit “Air Reserve Component” Award at the Air National Guard Security Forces Conference.
“For us it’s a huge morale boost because we’ve been trying to build our team toward a particular vision, so we really needed all hands on deck to accomplish this,” said Capt. Ericka Jaramillo, the 162nd SFS commander. “So for me, the team awards are bigger than the individual awards because everybody had a role in it. Every single person.”
In the past 18 months, the squadron deployed more than 20 people, commissioned three Airmen into the professional corps, and responded to an F-16 crash, on top of maintaining security for the largest Air National Guard base in the continental U.S. However, despite an already busy operational tempo, the unit set themselves apart through networking and collaboration.
“The networking piece has been huge; partnering with the 161st (SFS), 12th Air Force, the 355th Fighter Wing, local departments,” Jaramillo said. “Through our networks, we have been able to get opportunities for our members to really build on their experience as defenders.”
To overcome manpower issues while sustaining the garrison mission and deployment requirements, Jaramillo and her team developed a partnership with the security forces guard unit in Phoenix to help share responsibilities.
“We partner with the 161st, our sister unit, and when we have deployments or exercises or contingencies, instead of taking 10 of our people, we’ll send five of ours and five of theirs so it doesn’t hurt our manning,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Mulcahey, the 162nd SFS manager. “So we have camaraderie and teamwork with each other, and it benefits both units.”
One such benefit came earlier this year when the two units sent an entire blended security forces squadron on a humanitarian assistance exercise with 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) – New Horizons Panama.
“We built a relationship with 12th Air Force to participate in the Panama mission, but when guard bureau saw what we were doing here, they wanted to get more people involved,” said Mulcahey.
“We were able to send an entire squad,” Jaramillo added. “In the past, it was one or two, but never to that level.”
In addition to their creative manning strategy, the unit also offered a skill set inherent to many of its citizen Airmen, which continues to open opportunities for them.
“What’s unique about this region is that we have so many Spanish speakers that we are being tapped for support,” said Jaramillo. “One of our Airmen was highly utilized on the mission because she was bilingual.”
One challenge the unit faced is commonplace throughout the Guard: staffing size. While the wing supports an operational pace similar to active duty, Jaramillo said that their squadron was about a third of the size of their active duty counterparts. However, she believes that there are also distinctive strengths that come with the Guard: employing both full-time and part-time Airmen.
“In the National Guard, because of the breadth of knowledge (Airmen) bring from the outside, it really impacts total force, and it’s a really good asset to have that isn’t recognized all the time,” said Jaramillo. “The Airmen’s perspectives are different, our backgrounds are different, our experiences have been different, and we work toward the common goal for what’s best for the squadron, the wing, and ultimately the Air Force.”
The unit has demonstrated that teamwork within their squadron and other security forces units has been pivotal to their success. However, Mulcahey and Jaramillo also consider the award to be a shared achievement thanks to the support they received from their leadership and the wing.
“The 162nd Wing, no matter what section they worked in, they’re all getting us out the door. Whether it’s medical, LRS, finance, or getting supplies and equipment, all those things we need to operate, obviously couldn’t be done without them,” said Mulcahey. “Our name is on the award, but the wing should know that we’re representing the 162nd, and we are all part of the wing.”
“Our leadership has allowed us to be creative with our vision, and allowed us to go out and network, and they’ve supported us with those missions we’ve been interested in,” Jaramillo added. “So their support has been huge.”
Finally, squadron leaders expressed that mentoring Airmen has been the primary goal behind all of their efforts, and they were proud of the “grit” demonstrated by them.
“This team has really been focused on taking care of the Airmen, and really holding them to a standard and pushing them to go outside their comfort zones,” said Jaramillo. “They’ve met those challenges, and this award has shown that.”