Air Police: The Men Who Guard Our Guardians

Dec. 1, 1956

The air policeman who was most likely to give an offender a bop over the head with his billy club first, and ask questions afterward, has gone out of style with the reciprocating engine.

Nowadays this important airman has become as global in his responsibility as the Air Force itself. For example, at Lajes Field in the Azores, air police duties require very close coordination with local law enforcement officials. An AP who is efficient in basic fundamentals of AP work is in danger of jeopardizing international relationships. He’s a diplomat in black combat boots and Sam Browne belt.

The same can be said for Morocco, Japan, Okinawa, and the forty-odd countries where Air Force personnel are on duty.

The increasing importance of the Strategic Air Command, the Air Defense Command, the Tactical Air and the Supporting Commands, has magnified security problems and elevated the AP to a vital position. The AP has learned some new security methods to protect the Air Force’s valuable jet-age equipment, including nuclear weapons and guided missiles.

One of these is the assignment of German shepherd dogs to field air police units to give sentries greater range at Air Force bases and installations. The combat commands, led by SAC, now employ sentry-dog teams at many bases. So do some of the overseas commands. Far East Air Forces alone has more than 375 teams in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Guam, and the Philippines.

These men are only a small part of the approximately 38,000 airmen and officers on AP duty in the United States and overseas. They are assigned to the seventy-seven career field, with Hq., US Air Force, supervision exercised by the Inspector General and his Provost Marshal.

To understand the AP and his duties in today’s fast-moving Air Force, take a typical squadron—the 366th Air Police Squadron at TAC’s England AFB, La. A captain and a first lieutenant head up the squadron, but the routine and often frustrating duties fall to dozens of airmen, many in the upper three grades.

These airmen are carefully handpicked. Size and physique used to be a major criteria, but are not so important now. More important is an individual who can exercise leadership in a variety of assignments, and who can meet, handle, and solve unexpected situations on the basis of his own judgment. He also must have personal integrity beyond reproach.

To select and retain this type of individual, this squadron—as do all others in the Air Force—constantly conducts its own training program on the job, in addition to the training that the men receive at the Air Force Air Base Defense School at Lackland AFB, Tex.

The squadron has a three-fold mission: (a) retraining, (b) law enforcement, and (c) security.

At England AFB a master sergeant heads up the retraining phase, which consists chiefly of operating the stockade. Here the prisoner is retrained so that he can return to his squadron a better airman.

A high-ranking NCO is in charge of law enforcement. He supervises the guard mounts, held three times daily, and sees that the APs are briefed, given special instructions, and posted. The APs are encouraged to be friendly and helpful, but firm. They must keep traffic moving, patrol the nearby civilian community, and handle all necessary identification and registration procedures required on the base—including registration of vehicles, firearm, and cameras. They also provide identification cards for military and civilian personnel and dependents.

A master sergeant, usually assisting the Provost Marshal, is responsible for the security phase at England AFB. His duties include manning of restricted areas by the use of security post and motorized patrols. He is also in charge of central security control communications and is responsible for making the decision that throws the base sabotage alert plan into effect if and when such a move may become necessary.

The main security posts at England AFB are the flight lines, entrance and operations gates, special weapons post, and ammunition dump. An AP must be able to detect saboteurs and prevent any damage by them.

One of the AP’s biggest headaches—and of the Air Force as well—would be reduced if Air Force members quit speeding both on and off base. Accidents in privately owned vehicles continue to take a heavier toll of life, property damage, and time lost from duty due to injury than any other single accident cause. To combat this destruction, motorized APs, some in new sedans and station wagons, are continuously on the alert for speeders in an attempt to reduce deaths, injuries, and property damage estimated in the millions of dollars.

For example, the AP squadron at ARDC’s Edwards AFB, Calif., has just received newly conditioned patrol cars which have been painted blue and white and labeled “Edwards AFB Highway Patrol.” They have two-way radios and are manned by NCOs with a basic knowledge of first aid. These airmen say this comes in handy, because accidents still happen regularly lady despite their patrollings.

The air policeman today must have outstanding personal attributes and a healthy appetite for a variety of assignments. He must know military law and be in superb physical condition. He must be adept, if not expert, at judo. He must know patrol and investigation techniques, search and seizure, as well as the handling and treatment of prisoners. He must be able to control traffic and investigate accidents. He must be steeped in security indoctrination and sabotage alert procedures. He must know ground defense training, and be well versed on weapons and tactics.

As his duties have increased, so has prestige for the air policeman. He is smartly attired in his neat uniform—topped by a white cap and garnished with black combat boots and a black Sam Browne belt—and puts on white gloves for special occasions.

The Air Force now has a study under way to determine whether the AP’s familiar arm brassard should be e replaced with a distinctive AP insigne. Major commands currently are reviewing the study and are submitting suggestions for an insigne that will provide both easy identification and boost the morale and pride of the air police.

The Air Force feels the air policeman deserves this attention. And many airmen on the Air Force team are inclined to agree.