Keesler’s ‘Defenders’ proud of Air Force heritage

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Douglas Wickline
  • 81st Security Forces Squadron
The history of the Security Forces career field predates the inception of the Air Force in 1947. With the invention of aircraft, its subsequent military use and a military post or base for the platform in which to store, launch, and repair those aircraft, protecting those resources was vital.

In 1921, Italian Gen. Giulio Douhet stated, "It is easier and more effective to destroy the enemy's aerial power by destroying his nests and eggs on the ground than to hunt his flying birds in the air." Security Forces, commonly known as "Defenders," are that protective force here at Keesler.

Aug. 25, 1941, Army Air Corps Station No. 8 was officially named Keesler Army Airfield. Keesler's first guard and military police company, the 69th Military Police Company, had 35 members under the command of Capt. Ralph Canter, Keesler's first provost marshal, and 1st Lt. H.H. Blackburn, Keesler's first military police commander.

Keesler's first military police building was completed and operational on Oct. 9, 1941, at the intersection of what is now 3rd Avenue and G Street. In January 1942, Keesler became the site of a formal, specialized training school for military police. Eight members of the 69th MP Company graduated that year.

The first confinement facility was established in 1942. It consisted of eight 10-man field tents enclosed by a 6-foot chain link fence, the first vehicle registration branch responsible for more than 500 vehicles in the first two months of operation and an investigations branch who worked with civil authorities to combat vice within the local area. The 69th MP Company was tasked to provide off-base patrols to assist local law enforcement with controlling off-duty military personnel. The duty started with six two-man patrols used for town patrol that operated from the basement of the Biloxi Police Department. In July, the 69th MP Company had increased to 141 members and the unit was redesignated as the 865th Guard Company.

In August 1942, the first all-black military police section, under the command of the 865th Guard Company, was formed with 16 members to patrol off-base areas frequented by African-American military personnel. Throughout the next several months, the town patrol manning increased up to 345 members and the patrol area expanded as far west as Pass Christian and as far east as Pascagoula.

In December 1944, due to decreased manning, the town patrol was disbanded. In January 1945, the 865th Guard Company was tasked to provide its first written operations plan for Keesler Field's defense reactions against all emergencies.   

In January 1947, the 865th Guard Company was redesignated as the 3704th Security Guard Squadron.

In September, the hurricane of 1947 (before hurricanes were named) hit the Gulf Coast causing extensive damage to Biloxi and other coastal towns. A 600-man security detachment was assigned to the 3704th SGS to assist civilian police with security and to prevent looting, with the government announcing a "shoot-on-sight" proclamation. 

In January 1948, the 3704th SGS was redesignated as the 3380th Air Police Squadron. In February 1960, the security and law enforcement division divided the squadron into two categories, the office of the provost marshal and the office of air police operations. Later that year, the name "air provost marshal" was changed to "director of security and law enforcement."
In August 1971, the 3380th Security Police Squadron was activated at the direction of the Air Training Command. Soon the squadron received its first drug detector dog named "Marijuana Sniffer" on a test basis at the base. The test program was a success and action was initiated to order drug detector dogs for Keesler. Since that success, Keesler now has eight military working dogs, with both narcotics and explosive detection capabilities.

In July 1993, the 81st Training Wing replaced Keesler Training Center and the 81st Security Police Squadron was activated. In 1997, the career field was reorganized at the direction of the Air Force Chief of Staff and the 81st Security Police Squadron was redesignated as the 81st Security Forces Squadron.

In August 2005, Keesler was hit by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most costly natural disasters in U.S. history. Airmen of the 81st SFS provided security for the base up to the last minutes before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Sadly, many members of the 81st SFS lost their homes and personal belongings during the storm. The defenders remained resilient and immediately set up security for Keesler as soon as the storm passed. The 81st SFS was later relieved in place by four different security forces squadrons.  This allowed Keesler's defenders a much needed rest and allowed members to check on the extent of damage and begin repairs to their own personal property and houses.

Keesler's defenders are trained and equipped to support missions not only here at Keesler but worldwide. Keesler defenders have supported missions in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Kosovo and Southwest Asia, providing base security and air provost operations to protect our vital resources and personnel.

Throughout the years, the names, uniforms, weapons, technology and even the threat environment have changed. But the core mission of Keesler's defenders remains the same to protect base personnel, property and resources and to ensure the success of the Air Force's mission to "Fly, Fight and Win in Air, Space, and Cyberspace." Rest assured that despite the weather, day or night, 24/7, the men and women of the 81st SFS are here to protect and serve Keesler.