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Gate guards give 'elite' first impression of Keesler

The 81st Security Forces Squadron elite gate guards wear black boots with white shoe strings as a part of their elite uniforms at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

The 81st Security Forces Squadron elite gate guards wear black boots with white shoe strings as a part of their elite uniforms at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Anthony Wilson, 81st Security Forces Squadron, checks a visitor’s identification card using the Defense Biometric Identification System at a gate on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Anthony Wilson, 81st Security Forces Squadron, checks a visitor’s identification card using the Defense Biometric Identification System at a gate on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Airman 1st Class Chad Byrne, 81st Security Forces Squadron, salutes an officer as he enters one of the gates at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Airman 1st Class Chad Byrne, 81st Security Forces Squadron, salutes an officer as he enters one of the gates at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Anthony Wilson, 81st Security Forces Squadron, checks a visitor’s identification card using the Defense Biometric Identification System while Airman 1st Class Chad Byrne, 81st SFS, stands guard at a gate on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Anthony Wilson, 81st Security Forces Squadron, checks a visitor’s identification card using the Defense Biometric Identification System while Airman 1st Class Chad Byrne, 81st SFS, stands guard at a gate on Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Oct. 4, 2012. Keesler is the only base in Air Education and Training Command to adopt an elite gate guard program. The program increases pride and discipline within the 81st SFS while creating a positive, lasting impression in the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- On the surface being a gate guard may seem like nothing more than checking IDs and waving people through the gate. But there is so much more to it than that, especially now that the 81st Security Forces Squadron has implemented an elite gate guard program.

The elite gate guards are not only Keesler's first line of defense, but they are also the face of the Air Force and are expected to leave a positive first impression with members of the local community.

"I am proud that Keesler's Defenders are presenting a sharp image in every sense of the word," said Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy, 81st Training Wing commander. "Their appearance, their knowledge and their skill provide a positive, lasting impression to the Keesler community while showing any adversary that we have a professional and trained defense force. It is really great!"

To be chosen as an elite gate guard, Airmen must have good records within the security forces squadron, maintain fitness standards and pass an interview for the position.

And according to Maj. Matthew Pignataro, 81st Security Forces Squadron commander, there are far more applicants than positions, making selection a truly competitive process.

Once accepted, the elite gate guards are expected to know and execute Air Force instruction 31-113 - Installation Perimeter Access Control, maintain a professional attitude and excel at dress and appearance and customs and courtesies.

"Our professionalism is higher because we are on display," said Airman 1st Class Chad Byrne, a member of the new program. "It sets the tone for the base."

The easiest way to distinguish an elite gate guard is by their uniform.

According to Air Force Manual 31-201,Volume 1 - Security Forces History and Organization, "The distinctive uniform, specifically the beret with the Defensor Fortis flash, identifies SF members as an elite group of Airmen charged with the primary responsibility of protecting the Air Force worldwide. The uniform presents a strong visible symbol of a force protection commitment to the Air Force and the general public. Established appearance standards instill in the public a confidence in SF abilities. A failure to maintain appearance standards or failing to properly wear the beret or Security Forces shield erodes the public's confidence in SF abilities and cannot be tolerated."

In addition to their beret and shield, elite gate guards wear the blue service uniform with a white ascot, bloused black boots with white laces and black nylon web gear and duty belt.

Pignataro said that since security forces as a career field hasn't worn the black nylon gear regularly since 2009, he didn't have enough gear at first. But instead of buying all new gear, he saved the Air Force money by requesting leftover gear from other security forces squadron commanders across AETC. Three bases were able to send their excess gear to Keesler.

"They look great," said Maj. Gen. Leonard Patrick, 2nd Air Force commander. "But it's more than just looking great; it's about pride, discipline and deterrence. Not only are these elite guards honoring the history and tradition of our Air Force, they're also motivating our current and future leaders who pass through our gates each day."

It's not just Keesler leaders who have taken notice of the outstanding Airmen who make up the elite gate guard program.

"Installation entry controllers have one of the toughest jobs our Air Force offers: working in all weather conditions as the base's force protection 'tip of the spear,' while at the same time serving as the first ambassador to greet thousands of employees, families and visitors to the base. Kudos to Keesler's Defenders for successfully doing exactly that while also looking impeccably sharp!" said "top cop," Brig. Gen. Allen Jamerson, director of security forces and deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support.

Pignataro said security forces members and their predecessors have been protecting U.S. assets and wearing uniforms similar to those of the elite gate guards since before there was an Air Force.

"It's a tradition of honor and I get to interact with the public a lot more," said Staff Sgt. Kurt Rodriguez, elite gate guard member. "I just love my job."