Story by Capt. Brian Wagner, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
After a five-hour vehicle and foot patrol outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Tech. Sgt. Gary Rand sets his gear down and talks to his fellow airmen about the mission.
The Reapers have just pulled into their compound after the final “outside the wire” mission patrolling an area around the airfield to prevent indirect fire attacks to the base.
Rand was the Reaper 10 squad leader on the mission and was thankful the Reapers ended on a good note.
“On today’s mission, we (conducted) a dismounted patrol in a typical area where insurgents shoot rockets onto base, and we went out there to mitigate their movement,” Rand said. “It went smoothly; we crossed a few walls, some small, some big.” The mission ended with everyone safe and no equipment lost.
“It’s kind of historic. It’s not often that you can say that you are the last security forces … to conduct a (ground) combat mission in Afghanistan,” he added.
The 755th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, also known as the Reapers, provides security beyond the base’s perimeter and actively pursues improvised explosive device emplacers and those shooting rockets and mortars onto base.
After the final mission, Senior Airman Andrew Sundgaard reflected on the time spent with the Reapers.
“It’s an honor to perform the last mission of the 755th,” said Sundgaard, the Reaper 10 radio telephone operator. “It’s a great feeling to know we’ve come here and accomplished our mission and done everything we can to keep the base safe.
“I learned a lot from this experience. It’s a very unique experience for our career field, a mission that we don’t do often, but it’s a mission that we have the skillsets to do,” Sundgaard added.
The squadron comprises multiple security forces units from around the Air Force, including Air National Guard members from the 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh, N.Y. One of the largest units is from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., where rotations of airmen from the 820th Base Defense Group have been normally rotating to the squadron.
The diverse group of airmen has been increasingly teaming up with Afghan national security forces to provide base outer security.
“We believe the Afghan National Police are much stronger and more aggressive and have taken more responsibility for the security of the base than previous years,” said Lt. Col. Seth Frank, the 755th ESFS commander. “While working with the ANP, we have really pushed the insurgents out of many of the named areas of interest. Although they are still taking shots at the base, their accuracy this year is less than half of what it was in years previously.
“There have been no complex attacks at Bagram since the Reapers were assigned to provide the outside the wire security of Bagram,” Frank added. “In the last three months, we’ve seen a lot less roadside bombs emplaced and certainly less that have actually developed hits on coalition force members. “We’ve really kept the main supply routes as well as the brigade supply routes open and allowed freedom of maneuver for the coalition forces.”
With the Reaper’s mission drawing to a close, the battle space will be transferred to multiple units.
“We believe the ANP will step up as we leave, and we think we put them in a good condition (for success), but in addition to that, our collation brethren, the Czech (Republic) army force protection company has moved in,” Frank said. “We have done a (relief in place, transfer of authority) with the Czechs, and we feel they are very comfortable with the battle space and have the knowledge to set in and take over when we leave out.”
From here, the unit will inactivate, and the members will return to their home station.
“These superb young men and women have done an outstanding job. They have been amazingly courageous and resilient,” Frank said.
Frank has carried an American flag with him to honor Staff Sgt. Todd Lobraico, who was killed Sept. 5. He said he plans to return it to his family upon arrival back to the United States.
As the final vehicle rolled into the compound, all 180 members of the squadron stood outside the Reaper headquarters building as the truck commanders led their vehicles back to their spots.
Rand summed up his experience with his squad during the last six months.
“We started out as 21 individuals from different bases and we ended up becoming a family and becoming a team.”