MINOT AIR FORCE BASE It's 4:30 p.m. at Minot Air Force Base. While the majority of airmen prepare to head home for the day, members of 5th Security Forces Squadron Delta Flight get ready to begin theirs.
Gear bags and lunch boxes line the walls of the guard mount room in the Security Forces Headquarters building as airmen begin to file in and congregate near their friends before bag drags begin.
Bag drags, which are completed before each shift, are used to verify that airmen have the proper gear for duty and aren't carrying unauthorized items, such as cell phones.
Airman Michael Pfund, 5th Security Forces Squadron response force member, looks over documents while stationed in the Weapons Storage Area at Minot Air Force Base, Jan. 30, shown in this photo by Stephanie Sauberan.
After their gear has undergone function checks, to include their gas masks and flashlights, airmen form a line in front of the armory and are issued their weapons for the night.
"After we get our weapons, we take them to the clearing barrels for checks," said Airman Jesse Poe, 5th Security Forces Squadron response force member. "Once they are loaded we go to the guard mount room for our daily briefings and one airman will usually give a post brief to the flight."
Airmen deliver post briefings to leadership as a way to report on the weaponry they are currently carrying and their mission capabilities, said Poe.
The information necessary for post briefings is just one of many briefings the airmen are required to know. They also must acquire a vast amount of job knowledge and know an array of procedures as well as any information pertaining to the mission and security of the base.
The 5th Security Forces Squadron's Delta and Charlie flights are in charge of providing security for the base during night shift while Alpha and Bravo cover daylight shifts. All four flights often work an average of 15 to 17 hours a day including guard mount and equipment issues.
The flights are on a rotating "panama" schedule which consists of two days on and three days off with the following schedule reflecting the opposite pattern of days.
Despite a set schedule, when participating in specific or special missions, the flights will often work many days in a row before they have a break, said Poe.
Once guard mount has concluded and the flight is properly briefed on where they will be posted and any new information occurring on base they prepare to depart for their assigned areas.
Members of Delta flight who will be posted in the weapons storage area head out to a white bus which is waiting for them in the parking lot. They find a place to sit anywhere they can between all of their gear, weapons and each other before leaving to start their shift in the WSA.
Once they reach the area outside of the WSA, their badges are handed over to the WSA area supervisor for in-processing.
"To make sure that we have strict accountability of our personnel, the area supervisor physically puts hands on every badge and matches it to each airman prior to anyone entering the WSA," said Tech. Sgt. Chandra White, 5th Security Forces Squadron area supervisor.
During every shift airmen perform a minimum of one exercise in the WSA to ensure they know the proper procedures should a crisis arise. Within the first two hours of arriving on shift the area supervisor will conduct post checks on 100 percent of the personnel stationed in the area. Post checks ensure every location is fully equipped with mandatory gear, the airmen are knowledgeable on mission requirements and prepared to perform their duties.
"The fact that I make sure everyone is doing their job properly is the main purpose of mine," said Tech. Sgt. Frank Mitzel, 5th Security Forces Squadron area supervisor. "I ensure that we provide the proper security for the assets we are charged with protecting."
When not responding to alarms in the area or participating in training exercises, airmen find small pockets of downtime in the Alert Fire-Team Facility. Here they can eat a quick meal or use exercise equipment in the garage area.
Outside of the Alert Fire-Team Facility, the WSA is brightly lit with area lighting to allow for a clear line of sight from all guarded areas. A staggering silence lies over the WSA at night, amplified by the darkness and near minus 30 degree weather.
Airmen stationed here wear thick neck wraps, multiple layers and gloves to shield themselves from the elements as they carry, on top of everything else, an additional 40 pounds of gear and cold, metal weapons.
Airmen rotate guard shifts in the many towers throughout the area. They scan the fence line and beyond constantly keeping vigilant, said Mitzel.
Nightly exercises include disturbances at the fence line, simulated recapture of structures and distress calls on facilities or vehicles. Many of these exercises can last up to an hour and can occur at any time during the night-long shift regardless of temperatures or time of night.
"There are times when the temperature will be too severe for extended exercises," said Mitzel. "But if we are in the safe area with temperature then we make sure we accomplish training whenever possible."
Ensuring the well-being of everyone in the area to include proper cold weather gear and functional heating equipment in tours is a key component of mission success, said Mitzel.
Mitzel constantly patrols the perimeter of the WSA checking for faulty lighting or any other security concerns.
Mitzel said this is not his first tour at the base performing the duties of a defender. He understands the expectations placed on his airmen because the same expectations were once placed on him. The importance of their mission is something that he strives to express to them daily and is not lost on his troops, he added.
"Our job is important because Minot is the only Air Force base that has a dual mission," said Airman 1st Class Hayden Thomas. "We make sure that the president has weapons systems that are safe and ready to be used in defense of the United States at any time they are necessary."
Airmen in the WSA work long hours with many of their off days spent in training, said Hayden. Although they operate in difficult weather in a serious environment, Hayden said that he feels a sense of accomplishment in knowing that he plays a direct role in guarding the nation's most powerful defense.
Over the years numerous advancements have been made to the WSA not only in how airmen are trained but in equipment used for the mission as well, said Mitzel.
"Before the advent of payload transporters, trains were used to transport weapons systems from the WSA to the missile field," said Mitzel. "Every generation of airmen is able to build on and learn from the one before."
Training is constantly evolving to meet current technology and the mission at Minot, said Mitzel. For this reason 5th Security Forces Squadron personnel stationed here are able to stand out among their peers and excel in their duties.