Service members throughout the Defense Department and the U.S. Air Force are experiencing extraordinary financial and manpower constraints – often both. As a result, the Air Education and Training Command has adopted the cost-conscious culture initiative, or C3, to adapt to today’s changing operational environment and shrinking budgets. In addition, units throughout the Air Force and Luke Air Force Base have experienced manpower reductions. One squadron in particular feeling the pinch is the 56th Security Forces Squadron.
The Luke defenders are looking at new and innovative ways of providing installation security given their high deployment tempo as the wing’s most heavily tasked unit and their current manning cuts, according to Col. Nathan Mooney, 56th Mission Support Group commander.
Unfortunately, alternate means of security forces augmentation that have been used in the past, such as reservists, individual mobilization augmentees and even 56th Fighter Wing augmentation, are no longer viable options. Funding to bring in additional help is no longer available either.
“During the height of contingency operations, we began to acquire over-hires through the use of contingency funds to help supplement our Luke defenders. This was due to their high deployment tempo and home station security requirements,” Mooney said. “The 56th Security Forces Squadron went from being 150-percent manned at Luke in fiscal 2011 and 2012 to less than 100-percent manned today. This while still fulfilling U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility deployment requirements. We are taking steps to balance out our current authorization level to meet our deployment requirements and prepare for the new F-35 mission.”
“It’s important to know that despite the shift in manpower and mission requirements, we will maintain the security of the base in the most effective manner possible,” Mooney said. “Our defenders work very hard each and every day to achieve top installation security not only for our flying assets but our personnel as well. A reduction in manning does not equal reduced vigilance.”
The 56th SFS commander recently held two town hall meetings to inform base residents about changes they will see at the Ocotillo and Kachina gates.
“Due to reduction in available manpower and deployment requirements, we are reducing the hours of operation at Kachina Gate and random security will be posted at Ocotillo Gate,” said Maj. Sean Gibbs, 56th SFS commander.
The changes also take into account security preparations for the arrival of the F-35 at Luke.
“With the F-35 mission coming here, we are anticipating a surge of construction, personnel, and contractors on base, which means we need to free up manpower to handle it,” Gibbs said. “In order to handle all these responsibilities, we have to reduce security posts to be aligned with the authorized amount of unit personnel.”
Gibbs said that even though Ocotillo Gate will be randomly manned, security will remain heightened in the area and a top priority.
In addition, there will be law enforcement foot patrols throughout the day and night and an increased presence of Glendale police, he said.
To compensate for the changes, SFS is starting a neighborhood watch program to assist with security.
“If you see anything that raises concern about your safety, don’t hesitate to call,” said Chief Master Sgt. Steven Pleasants, 56th SFS manager. “The response time to have our patrol to the Ocotillo Manor housing area is extremely fast, since we have the authority to go through the Kachina Gate when necessary.”
As for the Kachina Gate, changes to reduce the hours were made specifically to accommodate the school population during school bus drop-offs and pick-ups, and pedestrian foot traffic going to and from school.
“We reduced the hours at Kachina Gate from 16 to six or seven hours a day in order to accommodate school traffic,” Gibbs said. “Prior to the decision, we touched base with Luke’s school liaison and spoke with the Dysart and Agua Fria school districts to ensure we had the right windows of time in the morning and afternoon to cover as many students and buses as possible.”
Though not all residents were happy about the changes, Gibbs addressed each question individually.
“Safety is our number one priority, and we will continue to do our part to keep the base and community safe,” he said. “Ocotillo Manor is still part of Luke and will be secured and protected as such.”
Ocotillo Gate is scheduled to be periodically manned at 5 a.m. beginning Nov. 22. Kachina Gate will close at 9 p.m. beginning Nov. 21 and reopen for reduced hours Nov. 26.
Kachina Gate’s reduced hours will be 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, and 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The gate will be closed weekends, holidays or when school is not in session.
For more information, call the 56th SFS operations section at (623) 856-4172 or (623) 856-3807.