Security guards provide Luke's first line of defense

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Who has the most visible job at Luke? Hint: it's not the wing commander, command chief, or any group or squadron commander.

Instead, it is the security officer, charged with installation protection, who serves as nearly every person's first point of contact upon entering the base.

The civilian security officers, employed by the Maryland-based company USProtect, have been working at Luke since May 2004. Initially they worked alongside uniformed servicemembers, including defenders from the 56th Security Forces Squadron, Army Reservists and augmentees from across the base. In December 2005, the officers took over gate operations, freeing 56th SFS defenders to focus on other force protection measures.

Security officers stand post at all of the base's gates and work in the visitor centers 24 hours a day, every day of the year. They also run two commercial vehicle search areas during designated hours.

"Without the security officers, the 56th SFS would be in a world of hurt," said Lt. Col. Steve Mezhir, 56th SFS commander. "We'd be in 12-hour shifts, and the high level of security you have come to expect from the Luke defenders would be difficult to maintain."

The professionalism and dedication of the officers is impressive, Colonel Mezhir said.

"We're not rent-a-cops, we bring a lot of experience to the job," said Lt. Randolph Miller, the day-shift supervisor here and retired Air Force master sergeant who spent his military career in security forces.

There are security officers here who have served with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, U.S. Marshal Service, Departmentof Homeland Security and various police agencies, Lieutenant Miller said.

"Being prior military, they already have the discipline, tact, diplomacy, understanding of military lingo and familiarization with ID cards," he said.

Security Officer Danielle Torres has worked at Luke for more than a year. Previously, she served seven years as an active-duty security forces defender with the Air Force.

"I used to serve as the NCO in charge of training, teaching augmentees how to do this job," Officer Torres said. "Now I am the training monitor for the day shift here."

Regardless of their backgrounds, all officers receive extensive training from the state of Arizona and 56th SFS. During more than 60 hours of instruction, the officers are trained in skills including armed use of force, search procedures, vehicle inspection, drunk driving detection and duress procedures. They are also subject to annual training for Air Force qualification with their weapons.

But often times, the most important part of their job involves acting as ambassadors to the base.

"I almost feel like an information officer sometimes," said Officer Lisa Namm, who served in the Marine Corps for three years prior to working at Luke. "Helping people find their way around base, whether they are a new delivery driver or headed to the club for a wedding, is a big part of our job.

Whether they are issuing base passes, searching the cab of a commercial vehicle, or checking an ID, the security officers have undeniably become a visible and important force serving as Luke Air Force Base's first line of defense.