The 56th Security Forces Squadron is trying “something new” by having three Department of the Air Force Police Officers, officers Phillip Mulherin, Rolando Gonzalez and Randolph Miller, serving as flight chiefs.
“Flight chiefs do everything,” Mulherin said. “We do scheduling, training and daily briefings for the flight. We are in charge of all the military and civilian personnel on flight duty. We do all that a military flight chief would do including formations and uniform inspections.”
Since the three are in charge of military personnel, they are required to take Air Force courses through Air University.
“We had a class on supervising Airmen,” said Gonzalez. “We also had classes on the way Air Force structures work. The courses help civilian police understand the way the Air Force works. The classes are similar to what Luke Airmen learn in Airman Leadership School and the NCO Academy.”
The technology used at Air University, such as online classrooms with web cameras, enabled discussions and allowed the courses to be set up much like a real classroom learning environment.
“The Air University did well with the courses,” Mulherin said. “They helped me, an old Army man, understand supervisory roles in the Air Force, and because it was all online we didn’t have to travel, saving the Air Force money.”
After completing the required courses, all three officers worked with the active-duty flight chiefs. Then following testing, practical application exercises and a standards/evaluation certification, they can now fill the role of a security forces flight chief.
While the move to have civilian police officers in charge of military security forces isn’t common, it offers a benefit to a career field that has one of the highest deployment operations tempo in the Air Force.
“From manpower shortfalls to backfilling deployed active-duty defenders, the DAF police officer and security guard program has been and continues to be extremely important and sometimes vital to executing day-to-day security operations,” said Maj. Sean Gibbs, 56th SFS commander. “The DAF police officers have brought a high level of expertise, unique skill sets and continuity to security forces across the Air Force.”
With the DAF police program civilian officers provide stability within the unit, Mulherin said.
“With us here, defenders can deploy, and day-to-day operations here will continue,” he said. “They don’t have to find a new flight chief every time someone deploys or receives orders to move. DAF police currently do all the things the Active Duty Airmen do like law enforcement patrols, gate guards and base security. Because we work hand-in-hand it just made sense to certify us as flight chiefs.”
Maj Gibbs went on to say, “DAF police officers are a huge benefit not just to security forces but to the overall security of the 56th Fighter Wing. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that’s critical not only to daily operations but in a training and mentoring aspect for our younger active-duty defenders.”
The responsibilities associated with being a flight chief are the same for everyone, civilian or military, and the new DAF flight chiefs have even more responsibilities than before.
“We are essentially the highest ranking during a shift like on nights or weekends,” Mulherin said. “If there was an incident on base I would be the initial incident commander. I would be responsible to make the decisions regarding if there is still a threat to the installation and if we will need fire or medical services. We went from needing to know just our job to knowing the bigger picture of how we work with others on base and how to use our resources carefully.”
Due to the large responsibilities associated with the job, SFs key leaders were selective with their flight chief choices picking these based on past experience.
Police officers Mulherin, Gonzalez and Miller were chosen because all three officers are extremely sharp, very knowledgeable of flight operations and have demonstrated they can handle additional responsibility, according to Gibbs.
“All three of us have many years of experience,” Mulherin said. “I was Army Reserve military police, and on a non-military police force for 20 years before joining the DAF program and have worked at Luke since 2004. Officers Gonzalez and Miller have similar experience; Miller was active-duty Air Force as a flight chief before he retired, so it wasn’t a big adjustment for him.”
Luke DAF officers and the 56th SFS have blended very well since the civilian police arrived; prompting other bases to ask for advice on similar programs.
“We will contact other bases, or they will contact us when they are just starting their DAF program to help them with the transition,” Mulherin said. “Guys like Miller and me have been here since the first civilians arrived about eight years ago. We have been through all the transitions so many times we were leading the way in Air Education and Training Command and sometimes in the Air Force. We learned a lot along the way, but it’s been a great transition. Other bases still come to us to ask how we did it, and we pass our knowledge along to help make their program be as successful as ours.”
It wasn’t just officers Mulherin, Gonzalez and Miller who made this work; they attribute much to the Air Force.
“It’s not just us,” Gonzalez said. “I was impressed the Air Force has put forth all this time and effort into some of the training. If you want any additional training they make it available, you just need to have the desire and ask.”
The Air Force has helped these three get to where they are, and now they want to help others with career opportunities.
“Now as a flight chief, if I have someone tell me they want to get to this point in their career either military or civilian, we can help,” Mulherin said. “We now have tools to say ‘let’s get you this training’ or ‘do this, this and this,’ and for me that’s what being a flight chief is all about; looking out for the guys and helping them to the best of my ability.”