FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 24, 2021) -- Directorate of Emergency Services personnel schooled 120 Soldiers Sept. 13-22 preparing them to serve as gate guards.
The Soldiers, from the 75th Field Artillery and 31st Air Defense Artillery brigades, are part of a regular rotation that augments DES professionals, said April Heard, DES Physical Security Branch manager.
“If we didn’t have these Soldiers working with us, we wouldn’t be able to have all these gates open all the hours that we do,” she said.
The loss of these trained Soldiers would have an immediate impact the Fort Sill community, resulting in longer lines to get on post, or less convenient access due to fewer gates remaining open.
“DES personnel are so thankful because we are able to continue our mission and serve our community,” said Heard.
Soldiers learned a variety of security skills, from performing personnel and vehicle searches, to handcuffing and use of force, and identifying fraudulent and falsified documents. Lessons occurred via classroom lectures and hands-on training.
Many of the Soldiers, while familiar with firearms, got their hands on the 9 mm pistol for the first time. Joseph Blessing, a DES security guard, coached the Soldiers through the basics Sept. 15, at the Engagement Skills Trainer-1. Soldiers hefted their simulated weapons as they fired from the standing, crouching, kneeling, and prone positions.
“This is the crawling and walking phases of getting comfortable with this weapons system,” said Blessing. “We perfect shooting basics here so when they go to the range itself, they are going to know what to do and how to do it.”
Spc. Daniel Varvodic, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, said the EST training was good because he’d never fired the pistol before.
“In our units we just qualify with the M4 rifle, so it was good to learn the different techniques and how best to get a qualifying score,” he said.
Serving as a 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember, Varvodic is used to providing the Army a great deal more firepower. But, he said the first few days of training were good as he learned how to respond to motorists and brushed up on greeting visitors with correct customs and courtesies.
While the Soldiers get armed with a plethora of training, Heard said they don’t stand alone when difficult situations arise.
“Every Soldier at every gate, generally, has a DES security guard there. In addition to that we usually have a lead guard and supervisory guard on staff each shift, so there’s always coverage to back up our Soldier security guards,” she said.
Spc. Sara Catlin, a 25U Signals Support Systems specialist, expressed her appreciation for the in-depth training. She said there’s a lot more to being a gate guard than she was aware of.
Of the DES instructors, she said they gave good classes and showed their support and appreciation to the Soldiers going through the training.
“You can tell they are going to be good people to work for,” said Catlin, from 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery.
The working relationship between Soldiers and DES civilians begins well before they go to their gate assignments. Heard said guards do a guard mount where they are briefed about any situations, such as basic combat training graduations or increased security threats or concerns, peculiar to that particular day.
Soldiers from private to sergeant first class will pull security duty for up to 90 days, though Heard said units may rotate personnel every 30 days. All Soldiers will receive gate guard training though NCOs may pull extra duty such as determining when and where Soldiers will work and ensuring all Soldiers on duty get their meals.
Staff Sgt. Quintavius Lumpkin, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery, said he performed security guard duty before and enjoyed it.
“I get to be the face of Fort Sill for a while,” said Lumpkin with an ever-present smile illuminating his face. “I like talking to everybody who comes through the gate.”
He said the training on suspicious items or things to look out for was especially helpful, along with how to interact with people, though he seemed to have that skill down.
Being a seasoned NCO and an eight-year Army veteran, Lumpkin said opportunities for professional growth regularly appear: “I learn something almost every day in the Army.”
Along with expressing her appreciation for all the Soldier who will serve as security augmentees, Heard said those who excel will be recognized.
“We have Soldiers who catch things every weekend, such as open containers, DUIs, weapons, and drugs. We put them in for impact awards with their units,” she said.
Heard, an Army veteran herself, said she enjoys being around Soldiers teaching them and learning from them daily. “I tell them every day they are the first people our customers and guests will see. This job may seem boring at times, but it’s super important.”