During the initial involvement of the USAF Security Police units in the Vietnam insurgency, internal security of remote and vulnerable air bases continued to be carried out under the long existing concept of providing internal protection against the covert threat of sabotage.
Well planned attacks by organized guerilla raiding parties on three of the major air bases in Vietnam forced the USAF to redirect its attention from internal security to providing a well trained and well armed, highly motivated combat security police force capable of repelling raids by experienced enemy sapper units.
A security survey was conducted by the USAF Inspector General in the Republic of Vietnam in 1965 and presented to the Chief of Staff, USAF with the recommendation that a test unit of highly trained Combat Security Police be formed to initiate a new concept, known as "Active Defense."
The development of tactics to support an active defense program would require knowledge of infantry tactics not common to normal security police operations.
With Chief of Staff concurrence, recruiting for the special program began in the CONUS in early 1966. After careful consideration, the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia was selected as the training course for the original cadre of the test unit. Personnel selected through personal interview were sent to Fort Benning and began the first class Ranger School to include USAF personnel on 4 May 1966.
Designated by the code name "OPERATION SAFESIDE", the 1041st USAF Security Police Squadron (Test) was formed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and prospective trainees began arriving at Schofield from throughout the CONUS and PACAF.
On 13 January 1967 the 1041st USAF SPS (T) arrived at Phu Cat Air Base, an essentially bare base operation in the Central Highlands of Vietnam whose runway was still under construction.
During this period 13 Jan to 4 Jul 1967, the 1041st secured its Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) of 9.3 square miles of jungle and rice paddies with active defense tactics developed during its training phase at Schofield Barracks. These tactics included daylight recon patrols, forward observation posts during the day and listening posts at night, operation of tactical motor patrols with gun jeeps, sweep and clear operations, relocation of areas of population, and the use of the primary tactic in active defense operations: The ambush patrol.
The 1041st prepared for its departure from Vietnam by training a specially organized flight of volunteers from the 37th Security Police Squadron at Phu Cat Air Base in the application of active defense tactics. Most of the special application combat equipment and vehicles were left in Vietnam for use by 7th Air Force Security Police units. The special flight trained by the 1041st amassed impressive results in applying the tactics taught them.
This resulted in the acceptance of active defense tactics by many units throughout 7th Air Force. On 4 July 1967 the 1041st was airlifted from Phu Cat to its temporary bed down site at Fairchild AFB, Washington. On 21 January 1968 the 1041st was placed under the operational management of the Tactical Air Command (TAC).
The Combat Security Police program received official approval from the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force on 1 July 1968. Prior to that date, due to a urgent request from Headquarters 7th Air Force for more Combat Security Units in the Vietnam theatre, the unit was redesignated the 82nd Combat Security Police Wing and on 8 March 1968 was sent TDY to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to establish a training site for two CSP units on an immediate basis. The 821st Combat Security Police Squadron was formed and received an accelerated training course and then deployed to Vietnam. A second unit, the 822nd Combat Police Squadron was also formed, trained and deployed from the Schofield site.
Upon completion of the training of the 822nd CSPS, the 82nd Combat Security Police Wing and the USAF Combat Security Police School were transferred to the permanent location at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The 821st CSPS was deployed to Phan Rang AB, RVN on 13 April 1968 and relieved a Battalion of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and took over their Base Camp. In August 1968 the 821st was relieved by the 822nd CSPS. In February 1969 the 822nd was relieved by the 823rd CSPS. In August 1969 the 821st returned to Phan Rang and relieved the 823rd. The 821st was deactivated from Vietnam in February 1971.
The Legacy Continues...
Even before the tragedy of Khobar Towers in which terrorists used a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VIED) to destroy Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, Brigadier General Richard Coleman, Air Force Chief of Security Police, had been planning and designing a model unit for air base ground defense better suited to the task than existing Security Police units. A number of obstacles stood in the way of realizing that design. First of all, every SP was tied to a weapon system; i.e., a flying unit, a specific air base, a weapons storage area, etc. No provision existed for an experimental unit to be raised independent of such weapons systems; hence, the plans and designs for what would become the 820th SFG remained abstract until late in 1996 when Coleman combined personnel slots of the Air Force Security Forces Agency at Kirtland AFB, NM, and the Air Force Security Forces Air Staff at the Pentagon to form a headquarters for a unit independent of a particular weapons system; the 820th came into being based at Lackland AFB, TX, as a component of the new Security Forces Center there.
This HQ stood up on 17 March 1997, but the component squadrons did not. That was the second obstacle: where to obtain the personnel slots to man those units? After Khobar Towers, fortunately, "force protection" became an imperative for the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogleman, got behind the realization of the 820th. As a consequence, several MAJCOMs who had mission changes where security forces manpower positions could be utilized to form the assigned squadrons of the 820th SFG.
In the beginning, the 820th had seven flights scattered around the country; one each at Eglin AFB, FL, El Paso Air National Guard Base, TX, Lackland AFB, TX, Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, McGuire AFB, NJ, Westover Air Reserve Base, MA, and Vandenberg AFB, CA. These flights came together to form a squadron when the HQ teams deployed for contingencies. At the outset, Coleman brought in Lt Col Larry Buckingham to command the group and oversee its formation and training. Together they designed and assembled a diverse collection of Air Force specialists, not all Security Forces, necessary to the proper defense of an air base. In addition to Security Forces, the unit also had personnel from the Office of Special Investigations, civil engineering, logistics and supply, communications, intelligence, administration, personnel, and the medical career fields--twelve AFSCs in all. Never before had an air base defense unit enjoyed the close cooperation of so many specialists. From March 1997, the group and its seven geographically separated flights trained and became operational. On 1 August 1999, Detachment 1, 820th SFG stoodup at Moody AFB, Georgia to plan/execute the move of the group HQ staff from Lackland AFB TX and to beddown and build three new security forces squadrons. On 14 March 2001, the official stand up of the group occurred at Moody AFB GA and the group moved to Air Combat Command (ACC).
While at Moody, it has been assigned to ACC under 9th Air Force as a direct reporting unit. On 18 August 2006, it was assigned to the 347th Rescue Wing. On 31 October 2006, it was reassigned to the 23rd Wing where it remained until 25 January 2008. On that date, it was reassigned to the newly formed 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing. Meanwhile, group squadrons were deployed to Iraq during Operation "Iraqi Freedom" where it earned two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards; the first, awarded on 13 August 2003 included a combat "V" device. The second was awarded on 23 January 2007. The group's deployments are too numerous to list all, but here follows the most significant of them:
In March 2009, the 820th Combat Operations Squadron (COS) stoodup which provides the operational training, equipping, and organizing support to the three assigned operational squadrons. The manpower was formed from the large group staff leaving the group HQ with the AF traditional group organizational structure.
The squadrons deploy as units, usually to forward operating bases (FOBs) or main operating bases in combat zones. In training or support roles, they function as the Air Force commanders (COMAFFORs) decide. At the time of this writing (March 2010), the 823rd is in Haiti while the 822nd and 824th are at Moody for reconstitution and training.
To provide a sample of combat operations, a news story tells us that while in Iraq, the 823rd SFS was posted to Balad AB adjacent to the Baghdad municipal airport. The base suffered numerous stand-off attacks by rockets and mortars which required a concerted effort to end. For the first time since Vietnam, security forces moved outside the base perimeter and sought out the terrorists.
Early in 2005, "Operation DESERT SAFESIDE" was the result and harkened back to the SAFESIDE operations of the Vietnam era. During the 60 days of the operation, the 823rd mounted 338 combat patrols, 56 sniper insertions, 26 direct action patrols, and 131 hasty raids.
During these actions, the 823rd captured seventeen "high value" persons, discovered eight caches of munitions, and confiscated one hundred heavy weapons. Consequently, attacks on the base diminished considerably.
Today, the 820th SFG and its squadrons form what is called a "Base Defense Group" based on a document just signed by the Air Force Chief of Staff (i.e., "Base Defense Group Enabling Concept"); note the new designation for the 820th. No longer a Security Forces group, it will become the first Base Defense Group (BDG) in the Air Force. The document provides a detailed program, not only for the 820th, but for other such units in the future. Here is a statement from that document:
"BDG Role in AEF Steady-State Missions. Deployed operations tempo for the BDG is extremely high. While the BDG is best suited for operations at airbases where threats are considered "high," or when the uncertain nature of the operating environment makes the threat difficult to predict and assess, BDGs also respond as a force protection enabler supporting Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF) steady state rotations. BDG forces may be presented as force modules and can be tailored in various package sizes dependent on the mission tasks. The entire BDG, including the headquarters element and all its squadrons, may be deployed to secure one Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW). BDG squadrons may also be deployed individually to provide a specialized ground defense capability. Planners should attempt to vector BDG steady-state taskings towards deployments requiring its specialized capabilities".
The BDG composition consists of a headquarters element, a Combat Operations Squadron, and three or more operational squadrons that can be tailored to meet the mission need. BDG FP elements may be characterized as a decidedly small, highly trained, mobile fighting force, with heavy light/medium firepower, organic intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strong leadership.
In July 2009, the CSAF signed an initiative total force partnership which designates the 105 Security Forces Squadron, at Stewart ANGB, NY to be aligned to support the 820th SFG/BDG. The squadron provides personnel to the 820th to support steady state missions and all personnel will be trained to the same standards as the group.
Thus, the 820th continues to evolve to fulfill the integrated base defense mission, as its predecessor--the combat security police of the Vietnam era did.
The commanders and Chiefs of the 820th SFG/BDG are listed below: