A night in the life

Airman Tara Port and Airman 1st Class Stephen Rivera discuss the vehicle they just pulled over Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Airman Tara Port and Airman 1st Class Stephen Rivera discuss the vehicle they just pulled over Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Airman Steven Goddard, a member of the 17th Security Forces Squadron, searches Tech. Sgt. Billy Banks during an exercise Aug. 23. Sergeant Banks simulated an armed gate runner who was apprehended by the 17 SFS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Airman Steven Goddard, a member of the 17th Security Forces Squadron, searches Tech. Sgt. Billy Banks during an exercise Aug. 23. Sergeant Banks simulated an armed gate runner who was apprehended by the 17 SFS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Computer Sciences Corporation security employee Ralph Craig conducts a random insurance measure at the Jacobson Gate Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Computer Sciences Corporation security employee Ralph Craig conducts a random insurance measure at the Jacobson Gate Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Airman 1st Class Jeremy Smith checks out an M-9 service pistol at the 17 SFS armory Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

Airman 1st Class Jeremy Smith checks out an M-9 service pistol at the 17 SFS armory Aug. 23. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Stephen Musal)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It's 6 p.m. on a Friday night, and you're heading off base to start the evening's fun. Your work week is over, but the job is just beginning for some Airmen on Goodfellow.

Lights flash behind you, and a quick burst of a siren signals you to pull over. You double-check your seat belt, grab your driver's license and military ID, roll down the window and wait for the inevitable, but instead of the blue or tan of a civilian police officer or sheriff, you're greeted by a young Airman in pressed battle dress uniform and a crisp, black beret.

"Good afternoon," the Airman says. "I'm from the 17th Security Forces Squadron. Did you know you had a tail-light out?"

A sigh of relief and a few minutes later, and you're on your way, thankful for the professionalism of Goodfellow's finest, and comforted knowing they'll show the same vigilance in protecting the base as they do in enforcing traffic laws.

From tail-lights to anti-terrorism, the 17 SFS works day and night, seven days per week, to enforce the law and ensure the safety of Goodfellow and its residents. On Aug. 23, this reporter was lucky enough to ride along with patrol members of the 17 SFS during a night shift.

First hour (6 p.m. - 7 p.m.)

I'm met by Airman 1st Class Stephen Rivera, a 19-year-old who joined the military to see the world. He'll get his chance on an upcoming deployment, but for now, he patrols the streets of Goodfellow, not too far away from his native San Antonio.

With Airman Rivera is Airman Tara Port, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania native on her second day of work with the 17 SFS. Airman Port is paired with Airman Rivera for on-the-job training, which works out well for me - as Airman Rivera explains the concepts of patrol to her, I get an idea of what a patrol member does.

It's cramped here in the back seat, but thankfully I've got a few creature comforts: my trusty laptop computer and a professional digital camera. I'm glad I'm here as a volunteer rather than as an Airman who made a mistake.

Our first hour consists of "selective enforcement," which is what most people think of when they think of patrol. Airmen Rivera and Port pull over four vehicles for "failure to stop at stop sign." Three are "briefed and released" after running their plates: a warning of sorts to encourage the drivers to slow down and come to a complete stop.

One is not so lucky. The driver, a military dependant, receives an Air Force Form 1408 - the Air Force's version of a traffic ticket - for violation of Air Force Instruction 31-204, Air Force Motor Vehicle Traffic Supervision. The driver's military spouse will have to explain the ticket to his or her commander. I make a note to always obey stop signs on base, especially the one in front of the Base Exchange.

A varied routine (7 p.m. - 8 p.m.)

The nightly routine varies with every shift, Airman Rivera tells me, and this hour is certainly varied. Between a stop at the government filling station to refill the cruiser and one more traffic stop (we had to rush to catch up with this one, which provided the first real excitement of the evening), Airman Rivera quizzes Airman Port on street names and familiarity with Goodfellow. What might be "good to know" information for any new Airman on base is critical knowledge to these security forces members.

Ironically, we hear a story on the radio of a foolish criminal who tried to rob a fast-food restaurant through the drive-through with a cardboard weapon. Laughter ensues, and not just from the security forces members.

We drive along the west side of base doing a security check, which takes us to a road filled with forest-like vegetation. Jokingly, my security forces escorts assure me that Bigfoot has only been spotted on the other side of base.

As we head back toward the Jacobson Gate near the end of the hour, a call comes over the radio, springing the two patrol members into action.

Exercise, exercise, exercise (8 p.m. - 9 p.m.)

The exercise radio call advises us that a white, four-door sedan has run the Jacobson Gate, carrying an armed person. We're at the right place at the right time - as the call comes in, we see the 17 SFS cruiser simulating the gate-runner speed past us and head toward the flight line. Sirens on and lights blazing, we kick into high gear and head out in chase.

With instructions of "stop your vehicle" ignored, we chase the other cruiser down the flight line, where it attempts to lose us through some fancy maneuvers in the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy parking lot. We've called for and received back-up by this point, a large truck with two more armed security forces members inside, but we notice something chilling as we follow the suspect back down the flight line: the passenger of the car is holding his simulated pistol to the driver's head.

As the suspect vehicle tries to escape through the munitions storage area, the truck simulates boxing in the suspect's vehicle. Our patrol car does the same from the other end, ensuring the vehicle will not escape. The passenger leaves the vehicle, dragging the driver with him as a human shield while he simulates shooting at the patrol members.

As we are joined by a third patrol and one of the patrol members simulates shooting at the suspect, incapacitating him, the suspect drops his weapon, shoves the hostage away from him to the ground and surrenders. A search of his person and vehicle begin, and Airman Steven Goddard finds three simulated pistols and two simulated knives on the suspect. Meanwhile, Airman Rivera, Airman Port, and newcomers Airmen 1st Class Jeremy Smith and Octovia Yazzie provide overwatch and simulate calling emergency medical services.

Later that hour, we head back to the Jacobson Gate to assist with a random access measure, where cars are stopped at random to check for proof of insurance. This RAM is run by Air Force-contracted Computer Sciences Corporation security employees, while Airmen Port and Smith provide overwatch.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (9 p.m. - 10 p.m.)

Airman Rivera leaves early tonight, leaving me at the armory for a short while with Airman Smith while Airman Port takes care of some security checks. Working at the armory, while second-nature for Airman Smith, seems like lonely duty: long periods of tedium punctuated by flurries of activity. We witness one of those flurries as the CSC employees arm up while trading out shifts, and later, as the previous shift turns in their 9 mm service pistols. I take the time to familiarize myself with the armory - while I know the M-16A2 rifle from basic training and deployment, and know the M-9 service pistol from my career field requirements, some of the other weapons, such as the M-203 grenade launcher, are less familiar to me. Security forces are well trained on a variety of weapons.

To Nasworthy and back (10 p.m. - 11 p.m.)

Airman Smith and I reconnect with Airman Port and head out to Lake Nasworthy housing for a housing check. During the drive, Airmen Port and Smith compare "war stories" from security forces tech school: as Airman Port recalls her flight's 10-mile graduation run, Airman Smith is suitably impressed.

More learning from a veteran patrol member begins as Airman Smith goes over Airman Port's training routines for the next few days. There's always more to learn when you're a security forces member.

As the cruiser drives past Lake Nasworthy housing, we share stories of where we're from and where we're going. Like Airman Rivera, Airman Smith is gearing up to deploy soon, and as we discuss the base to which he's headed, I am amazed to discover that the 19-year-old San Angelo native has only been an Airman for a year.

I realize that these security forces members are all young in both age and Air Force experience (enough to make me, a 23-year-old with just under two years in, feel like an old man), and yet, with so much riding on their shoulders, they rise to the occasion with dignity and professionalism beyond their years.

As we arrive back on base, the CSC employees wonder laughingly "what the public affairs guy did to get thrown in the back." My assertion that I caught one of the security forces members' bad side in a Monitor photo is met with laughter from inside the car and out - a sense of humor, it seems, is as much a necessary part of the job as a sense of duty.

The small hours (11 p.m. - Midnight)

The final hour of my ride-along is a blur as we drive around base for security checks. While camaraderie abounds inside the patrol cruiser, the security forces members take their job seriously as we check the buildings around base to make sure they are secure.

We resume travel on the perimeter road, checking for any threat to Goodfellow, before I am dropped off at the 17 SFS building. Airmen Smith and Port have another six hours before their shift is over.

Most of us on this base, me included, work a standard work day, during daylight hours. After my ride-along, you can bet I'll remember those who work while we sleep and play, protecting Goodfellow from harm.