Murphy's Law: October 27, 2002

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A growing problem with the U.S. Air Force is the increasing dependence on air force security personnel as the only "combat troops" on an air base. In some recent anti-terrorism exercises, featuring American commandos operating as the bad guys, it was discovered that there was generally no plan to organize the vast majority of air force support troops to help out in the event of a ground attack on an air base, even one overseas. While combat support troops in the army and marines are equipped with rifles and machine-guns, and even naval ships have some of these weapons (which the sailors look forward to practicing with while at sea), most air force personnel have no weapons assigned to them. So when the mock attack was made on air bases, most air force personnel fled to their living quarters to await the end of the exercise. To many in the air force, this is a reasonable course of action. Over the years, the air force has built up a formidable force of light infantry (Air Force Security Police Agency, or the AFSPA) which has 30,000 armed personnel (the equivalent of three army infantry divisions, without the tanks, artillery and support units). These troops guard about a hundred air force bases world wide. The air force does own some 220,000 M-16 assault rifles, and these are assigned to bases and major units. But it's up to the local commander to set up training for troops whose work does not normally include handling weapons. Since the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which mainly hit air force personnel, the air force has taken a closer look at defense on the ground. But there still seems to be some reluctance to arm and train most air force personnel. This has led troops in the other services to call the air force people, "civilians in uniform." Without weapons training, that's basically what they are. And they will naturally react like civilians if attacked. 

 


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