Defenders guard Luke through search pit

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Senior Airman Jaden Cady, 56th Security Forces Squadron law enforcement controller, uses a mirror to inspect underneath a truck that is passing through the South Gate search pit, May 31, 2019, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. While performing inspections, Defenders search for unauthorized items such as weapons, explosives or illegal substances. (Air Force photograph by Airman Brooke Moeder)

Rain or shine, the 56th Security Forces Squadron Defenders stand guard 24/7 protecting the men, women and assets of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. This includes checking larger vehicles at the base’s South Gate search pit.

Two Defenders and a military working dog handler with their canine work the pit together. They protect the population and the resources on Luke by performing a full, 360-degree inspection of vehicles prior to allowing them base access.

“The search pit and the gate are the first lines of defense for Luke,” said Tech. Sgt. Jose Martinez, 56th SFS flight sergeant. “The Defenders check every vehicle that goes through the pit to make sure it’s not bringing anything harmful or illegal onto the installation.”

On average, Defenders inspect more than 530 vehicles in the pit area each week.

Depending on the size of the vehicle, inspection times vary up to 15 minutes. A FIDO explosives detector is used on commonly touched items and can detect trace levels of explosive materials.

Drivers pull into the inspection pit and open all the doors and compartments of their vehicles. For their own safety, the drivers wait in a secure holding area while their vehicle is searched. 

Staff Sgt. Zackery Hons, 56th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler and his MWD inspect a truck at the Luke Air Force Base South Gate search pit May 31, 2019. Hons and his MWD, Wax, perform a 360-degree inspection of vehicles prior to entering the base. (Air Force photograph by Airman Brooke Moeder)

While performing inspections, the Defenders search for unauthorized items such as weapons, explosives or illegal substances. With the numerous amounts of vehicles and people that come through the pit, they have to be ready for anything.

“We had an individual that was acting suspicious,” said Senior Airman Jaden Cady, 56th SFS law enforcement controller. “We searched the individual’s car, pulled his napkins out of the center console and found a pipe, several razor blades and baggies of drugs in his backpack. You want to be systematic and thorough with the searches.”

The Defenders have a vital role in maintaining mission readiness, by preventing incidents such as these from escalating and possibly further endangering base members.

If the offender is a civilian, the local police department will detain them. If the offender of a random search is a military member, the first sergeant or the individual’s commander will investigate and act as they deem necessary.

Commercial drivers or civilians who need to make regular trips onto base are vetted through the visitor center annually.

For the most part, said Cady, inspections go smoothly. The Defenders of the 56th FW SFS continue to stand watch and ensure the safety of everything inside the gates of the base.