Careers: Military--Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, Coast Guard/General questions


Hi Chris,

I'm doing a story for a creative writing class and there are a couple of scenes that feature the air force.  Basically, a city is attacked and it's near an air force base so the air force responds.  I hope you can answer a few questions.

Who is in charge of an air force base?  How would he/she identify themselves to outsiders?  I imagine it's hard to say "I'm General X, in charge of X air force base."

What kind of ground vehicles does an air force base keep in response to an attack?  

Is there a name for the type of soldiers that would respond/make a perimeter, such as Special Tactics Squadron?

Well, I'll try to answer your question as best I can. I'm a writer myself, so I can appreciate your desire to make your story as realistic as possible.

Your first question has a very simple answer. The person in charge of an Air Force Base carries the title of Base Commander, and that's how he/she is referred to. "I'm General John Smith, Base Commander, X Air Force Base." That's pretty much how he would introduce himself.

Your next two questions are a bit trickier. An Air Force base is very well equipped to deal with an attack on the base itself; these airmen are called Security Forces (Air Force people call them "SF"). They receive training in small arms (pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles) and are typically stationed around the flight line and sensitive areas of the base. They would also be called into action to repel an assault on the base itself. However, an Air Force base for the most part doesn't have the kind of ground forces that you would send to defend a city. For one thing, there's not enough of them in the SF unit on base. Second, they don't have armored vehicles, which you would also want to use if you were responding to a military attack. The Security Forces just aren't equipped for that mission.

There are some Air Force bases that have units from other branches of service stationed there for one reason or another (most often they're reserve units). Lackland Air Force Base, for instance, in San Antonio where I'm from, has both a Navy and Marine Corps detachment on the base. As I indicated before, these are reserve units that are based there because there aren't any Naval or Marine bases in the area. They're at Lackland so that Marine and Navy reservists in the San Antonio area have a place to report to. So, the base near the city in your story might very well have some Marines, or an Army unit, but again they're not going to be regular front-line troops. They almost certainly won't have heavy vehicles or equipment.

Having said that, it is your story, and in your story the Air Force responds to the attack, so let's think this through. What sort of attack are you talking about? If the Air Force is responding to an attack on a city, it would have to be because they're the only military forces in the area (otherwise, conventional heavy ground forces would be sent to respond). And that would have to mean the attack is a complete surprise. So keep that in mind, just a suggestion.

Another suggestion -- I don't know how much you know about Air Force Pararescuemen (called PJs), but they are without a doubt the best, most highly trained ground combat personnel in the Air Force, and they're part of the Special Operations Command. Their primary role is Combat Search and Rescue -- they are sent in to retrieve downed pilots and other soldiers or civilians trapped behind enemy lines. They are extensively trained in all forms of ground warfare, light and heavy weapons, and combat medicine. Basically, they can fight their way in, rescue the person/people, treat their wounds like a combat medic, and fight their way back out. They are airborne qualified, so they can parachute in using either HALO (High Altitude - Low Opening) or HAHO (High Altitude - High Opening) drops, and they are also qualified combat divers, so they can come in from the sea. Their training takes more than two years, and the course has a higher washout rate than the Navy SEALS. PJs are very highly respected in the Special Operations community. I'd suggest reading up on them a bit. If an Air Force base was ever asked to send forces to help stop an attack, and there were PJs on the base, you'd better believe they would be sent.

Another group of Air Force Special Ops are called Combat Controllers. These are airmen who are attached to ground forces (Army or Marines) with the task of calling in and directing air support and air strikes. Since they're out there on the front lines with the grunts, they get a lot of the same training in ground combat.

To wrap up, you're going to need some plot twists to make an Air Force ground defense of a city make sense, but I think it can be done. I hope I've been of some help. Good luck.

Careers: Military--Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, Coast Guard

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Chris McDowell


I can answer any question regarding aircraft types, missions, weapons systems, design and service history, and capabilities. This includes American as well as foreign aircraft.


I have extensive study experience in all aspects of modern military aviation, going back more than 20 years. I have personal relationships with pilots, engineers, aircrew, and maintenance personnel which give me access to a wide array of anecdotal information as well as technical data not easily found through conventional sources like internet searches.

University of Texas at San Antonio

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