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Behind 20th SFS berets

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ilya Makarenko, 20th Security Forces Squadron installation patrolman, directs fellow defenders during an exercise at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 13, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ilya Makarenko, 20th Security Forces Squadron installation patrolman, directs fellow defenders during an exercise at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 13, 2018. Makarenko and other team members used controlled movements and constant communication to manage the simulated threat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrea Pearson, 20th Security Forces Squadron entry controller, gives a base visitor directions at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 13, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrea Pearson, 20th Security Forces Squadron entry controller, gives a base visitor directions at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 13, 2018. Installation entry controllers assigned to the base’s Sumter Gate see more than 1,000 vehicles per day and provide a line of defense to protect installation security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in law enforcement.

From evidence collection and traffic stops to multi-agency international investigations, every community-building or adrenaline-inducing aspect fascinated me because of the reasoning behind it: to defend and protect people.

While growing up, I was enticed by shows highlighting law enforcement and wondered when, or if, I would be able to get a real-life behind the scenes look. Even after four years of formal education about topics such as police systems and homeland security, finding employment in the areas I was interested in eluded me due to the challenges of being a military spouse.

Finally, I made the decision to pursue a new route: enlisting in the Air Force with the goal of joining the Office of Special Investigations.

Becoming a public affairs photojournalist has allowed me to work hand-in-hand with OSI and security forces members often. I provide them photographic support for incidents involving damage to property or injuries while they speak about policy or equipment.

This relationship enabled me to organize an in-depth experience for myself. Shortly after a formal request, 20th Security Forces Squadron leaders gave me the opportunity to be thrown into the mix during a ride along with Staff Sgt. Ilya Makarenko, 20th SFS installation patrolman.

Our first visit that day was with Airmen whose faces are among the first that greet visitors.

Defenders assigned to the base’s Sumter Gate see more than 1,000 vehicles per day. By acting as sentries, reviewing credentials and analyzing the environment the Airmen provide a line of defense to protect installation security.

Reflecting on my experiences coming through the gate, sharing a joke or interacting with an upbeat individual, I wondered: How do they maintain a good mood while standing for hours in the heat or cold, speaking with thousands of people with all different personalities or dispositions?

Airman 1st Class Kameron Kelly, 20th SFS installation entry controller, explained it was important to stay positive because interactions at the gate can be a domino effect for those involved. The approximately 15-second exchange can ruin a person’s mood, or by being polite, it can set them up for a good day.

As the conversation continued, the defenders fell unexpectedly silent and turned up the radios on their chests, letting distant voices fill the room.

An exercise began to unfold as they listened to the description of a vehicle that had simulated driving through the gate without stopping or presenting identification. Makarenko’s conversational demeanor dropped quickly as he focused on the vehicle’s make, model and color while we made our way to his patrol vehicle.

Moments later, Makarenko and other security forces members surrounded a car as instructions were called out to their colleague acting as a hostile. I could not help but notice the controlled movements and constant communication between defenders which helped them maintain control of the situation.

This exercise was the first time I was able to see the quick response and intentional actions of the defenders in response to a threat. I was used to seeing the Airmen in the calm after the storm, so seeing the Airmen I had been joking with take control of a dangerous situation took me off guard.

It was impressive to see first-hand how the 20th SFS Airmen worked to protect Team Shaw members and assets with confidence.

Although the day was over quickly and I had not gotten to see all I wanted, my adventures with the Security Forces members were not over.

Next time, I plan to meet with Airmen for training and witness the capabilities of military working dogs.