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Dyess AFB airmen trained to provide backup security

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Military personnel are always training at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, but about a dozen airmen stepped out of their normal facilities Thursday to learn how to provide backup for the base's security forces.

They're called individual augmentees, and they walk many different paths in the Air Force.

Two red flags flew high above the firing range building at Dyess, a change from the half-staff U.S. flags that adorned the front entrance and roundabout near the shopping areas of the base – lowered following the mass shooting at an Orlando night club that left scores dead Sunday.

The flags mean live rounds are being fired inside, but if you kept your ears open, you'd have heard the shots from around the street corner even before you saw the beige building – indistinguishable from most on base, aside from those flags.

Inside the building, a line of men and women garbed in ABUs – Airman Battle Uniforms, with their camouflaged patterns and strictly followed guidelines – stood and waited for the signal to drop to the ground, pick up a rifle, and fire five shots at a section of a paper target roughly 50 yards away.

The range master gave the announcements, and instructors raised their hands to signal that the range was clear.

With sights lined up and magazines loaded, the first shot popped with a crack that had a slight echo as it reverberated off the concrete floor. Then another trigger squeezed and a single shot flew down the range. Within seconds, the rest of the group of augmentees joined and produced a cacophony projected from their instruments – .223 caliber rifles.

Laying in prone positions, waiting to reload the next magazine for the second round of firing, the visual would lead the average civilian to guess that these airmen were battle-hardened and ready to move to the front lines.

But if they have to use the past few days' worth of training, they'll be protecting our bases.

The Security Forces Augmentee program recruits airmen of all AFSC classifications – a military term for the individual airman's job section – to provide extra base security when needed. That could be due to the ordered deployment of existing security forces personnel, or an event calling for the additional security measures.

Augmentee training happens multiple times throughout the year, but for the airmen who are selected, it's an opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their normal service.

Airman First Class Kevin Persons has only been in Abilene for about a month after moving from Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, but he's welcoming the additional duties on top of his role with air flight equipment and life support.

"It wasn't exactly what I was expecting to do, and now that I've gotten into it, I enjoyed it. The training's been really interesting," Persons said.

He was one of the airmen who lined up and tested his mettle with the rifle. Most of his shots were directly on target.

"Doing training outside the shop and being able to shoot, and being able to learn different techniques that security forces uses has been a great advantage."

In the event he is needed, Persons said he is ready to step in and make sure the base is kept safe.

While it was apparent that all of the airmen had a good time with the guns -- which is understandable, despite varying opinions on gun control across the country, the power of a gun was described by one airman simply as "awesome" – marksmanship was only part of the total training the augmentees started on Monday.

SSgt. Philip Giovanniello said the augmentees learned combat techniques – secondary training with batons, internal base defense strategies, and ground tactics in addition to the marksman training -- but also how to communicate on the ground effectively so they can be reliable in a contingency.

"It's used for base defense -- to have augmentees in case of a contingency or some kind of exercise or increase in FPCON – to have individuals trained up to backfill security forces personnel if we don't have the manning at the time," Giovanniello said. "These guys come in and do the job based on the training they received and get the job done for us to assist the commander."

Security Forces covers all of the points of entry at the base and protects the people and resources on base. Giovanniello said augmentees would fill any need for the group, whether it's guarding the entrance or securing items on the flight line.

The augmentees will finish up their training this week and be certified to fill in for Security Forces. The airmen see it as an opportunity for themselves, and it is, but it also covers a glaring hole in the Air Force. According to the Military Times, close to 25,000 airmen were cut from the branch in 2014, 3,992 of whom were listed in security forces -- 15 percent of the group's total.

This week's augmentees certainly won't be the last group.

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