Puerto Rican guards to assist AF security
March 18, 2003
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — More than 300 soldiers from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard are arriving in Europe to assist beleaguered Air Force security forces at air bases in England, Italy and Turkey.
The soldiers will be working at RAF Lakenheath, RAF Molesworth and RAF Mildenhall in England; Aviano Air Base, Italy; and Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. German soldiers already are helping provide security at air bases in Germany.
The guardsmen will be deployed for six months and replaced by troops from other Guard units.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic that we have National Guard troops here,” said Lt. Col. Bill Delaney, commander of the 48th Security Forces Squadron at Lakenheath.
He said the help of about 100 soldiers will give his troops time for needed training, and, more importantly, let them take some time off.
“The time for training is always made,” he said. “It’s the days off that are the casualty here.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America, force protection measures have been stepped up at military bases worldwide. About 9,000 guardsmen in the United States are providing security help at 163 stateside bases.
Delaney said his troops have been working 65 hours per week since the attacks.
“They’re tired,” he said. “It has gone on for a long, long time.”
Senior Airman Roberto Perez is happy to see the Guard, and not just because he can speak Spanish with them.
He described the work schedule for his squadron as “rough at times.”
“It’s been nonstop,” he said. “It’s been get up, arm up, go to bed, get up, arm up, go to bed.”
The 12-hour shifts, he said, are really more like 14- or 15-hour shifts because of the need to check out weapons and get briefed before the shift, and then turn in weapons after the shift.
“We welcome the Army with open arms,” he said.
Capt. Adlyn Pedraza, commander of Company A, 192nd Support Battalion, which arrived at Lakenheath on Monday, said the soldiers spent one month at Fort Dix, N.J., for training in such areas as searching a car or a person, plus some weapons training.
“I feel pretty good doing this,” she said. “The morale is high.”
Pedraza is a teacher when not in uniform. She said she will keep in touch with her students via e-mail and tell them what she is doing.
“I just tell them, ‘I’m protecting you guys,’” she said.
Pfc. Laura Feliciano, 19, a biology student back home, is on her first deployment.
“I’m looking forward to everything,” she said. “It’s not every day you find an opportunity to travel.”
She said there is no difference between protecting an Army base or an Air Force base.
Spc. Joel Dejesus, 20, is also on his first deployment, missing his job in the packing and handling department of a Procter & Gamble Co. warehouse back home.
“We’re going to be far from our families,” he said. “We’ll be missing them. But we’ll get used to it.”
He said the morale is high and members of the company keep one another’s spirits up.
“If you see someone who is looking homesick, you say, ‘Hey, come on. It’s going to be better tomorrow,’” he said.
Delaney said the 48th Fighter Wing historian told him that soldiers have not been stationed at RAF Lakenheath since 1967. Also, guardsmen have never made a home at the base.
“This is the first such deployment,” he said.
But, he said, it is the way of the world in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the ongoing war on terrorism, as well as the military buildup for possible war with Iraq.
“Sept. 11 brought with it a lot of unique challenges,” Delaney said. “One is an increase in the overall security of American facilities.”
His security forces have been joined on the job for the past 18 months with augmentees from other units. He said that program will remain.
“We’ll use augmentees when we need to,” he said.