EL PASO, Texas - Several active duty security forces members now have a better idea what the “Total Force” concept is after learning valuable combat skills from Guard instructors.
Senior Airman Michele Vitorio and Staff Sgt. Robert Holmes, both from the 316th Security Forces Squadron on Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, and about 50 other active duty security forces trained here at the Desert Defender Regional Training Center led by the Texas Air National Guard’s 204th SFS.
Desert Defender's area security operations course is nearly 50 days of intense training that prepares security forces for installation security in combat zones. It includes mounted operations on armored vehicles and dismounted operations in foot patrols, among other military tactics and techniques.
About three weeks into her training, Vitorio learned that her instructors were Texas Air Guard members.
"I had no idea," she said. "They are doing a great job."
After service in Korea, Vitorio was assigned to security forces for Air Force One and other official aircraft on Andrews.
Preparing for her first deployment brought her back to El Paso, her hometown.
"It's good to be home," she said, with a laugh. "I love being back."
Vitorio said her favorite part of the training was a land navigation course held during the day and at night in full battle gear.
"That was probably the toughest part of the training," she said."I feel that we are all pretty prepared.”
Senior Master Sgt. Earnest Delao, the 204th SFS’s operations superintendent, said the Guard instructors work through the Air Force Security Forces Center for their course curriculum.
The 204th was certified as a regional training center for active duty, Guard and Reserve security forces just 18 months ago. Their instructors are also trained and certified by the Air Force.
Now that they are certified, Delao said they spend more time "concentrating on the training."
The squadron has over 49 full-time instructors and staff.
The squadron depends upon nearly 100 traditional Guardmembers from supporting states who come to Texas in a temporary duty status with expertise in services, vehicle maintenance, supply, administration and other specialties.
It all goes a long way in providing the best training available to the deployers, said Lt. Col. Carl Alvarez, the squadron and training center commander.
He said the Air Force has provided the Texas Air Guard with "incredible equipment" to support the mission, including armored vehicles and an armory with a "vast array" of weaponry.
"It's a great organization, it's a great mission, and we are honored and privileged to have the opportunity to do it," Alvarez said.
Holmes said he appreciates his Guard instructors, because of the prior experience they bring.
"The majority of the instructors are prior service Army or Marines … they have that knowledge," he said. "They have a good pool [of instructors] going on over here."
In his almost six years of service, Holmes has deployed to Qatar and Balad, Iraq, for base security operations. In this next deployment, he will return to Balad for area security operations, which takes him “outside the wire” to defend the installation.
He believes this course has prepared him for any scenario.
"This covers everything … inner-base security; it covers outer-base security, foot patrols and mobile," he said. "This training is a lot more of what we do downrange."
Comparing Desert Defender to other courses he has attended, Holmes said, "I think that it's a little bit more intense."