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Cops in Kirkuk

An Iraqi woman sells bread to motorists in Kirkuk, Iraq, Jan. 28, 2007.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Maria J. Bare) (Released)

An Iraqi woman sells bread to motorists in Kirkuk, Iraq, as an Army patrol passes. Kirkuk Regional Air Base operates as a control center for many of the coalition units operating in the area. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Maria J. Bare )

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- Six members of the 439th Security Forces Squadron deployed to Iraq on Feb. 18. 

Capt. Shawn Swarz, Master Sgt. Paul Cyr, Tech. Sgt. Scott Taylor, Tech. Sgt. Ronnie Briere, Staff Sgt. Eric Marjault and Senior Airman Arjel Falcon, left as part of a 13-man squad of security forces Reservists tasked with the defense of Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq, said Chief Master Sgt. Michael P. Grady, Westover's security forces manager. 

The Patriot Wing cops are assigned to the 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, one of the Air Force's only security forces units with operational control of base security in Iraq. 

Although Kirkuk has maintained a degree of stability compared to other areas of Iraq, ethnic tensions and oil interests make it one of the country's most sensitive areas. Kirkuk's oil fields are responsible for nearly 40 percent of Iraq's national oil production. The competing ethnic groups- Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, have been vying for control of the area and its oil wealth since Saddam was overthrown by coalition forces in 2003. 

Sporadic violence among Kirkuk's ethnic groups and attacks from groups instigating tensions such as Al Qaeda, make the nearby air base vital to the stability of northern Iraq- and consequently a priority target for insurgent and terrorist groups. 

"You hear gunfire everyday- all the time. We get occasional rocket attacks, although they've been basically ineffective," said Sergeant Cyr, a battle captain with the deployed cops. "It's such a big base and there's so much going on every day. I've been on six deployments to the Middle East and this is definitely the most eventful." 

Defending an air base in hostile territory is a big job. The cops work 12 to 13-hour days, doing everything from manning guard towers, operating sophisticated sensors that detect small-arms fire and conducting surveillance - to skirmishing with enemy fighters outside the gate, Sergeant Cyr said. 

But despite the size of the task and the danger involved, the Westover cops persevere. 

"Everyone's morale is high and we all support this mission," Sergeant Cyr said. 

"All of them have deployed before. They've proven themselves," Chief Grady said, "we expect great things- we know they'll do a great job."
Westover's cops received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in January, owing some of that honor to their outstanding record while deployed. They were the first security forces squadron to go to Guantanamo Bay in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where they managed more than 540 detainees. The squadron also had volunteers supporting military operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Security forces Airmen from the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, and the 917th Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, La. rounded out the membership of the 13-man security team in Kirkuk. 

The deployed cops are expected to return home in July.