By Maj. Marie Denson
151st Air Refueling Wing
Approximately 30 Airmen with the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Security Forces Squadron answered the call to support state and local law enforcement during civil unrest in Utah following the death of George Floyd. Within one hour of receiving orders from Gov. Gary R. Herbert on May 30, the Airmen arrived at the Utah Capitol ready to assist.
They were part of a group of nearly 200 Utah Army and Air National Guardsmen activated by the governor to help provide support to civil authorities and to ensure the safety of fellow-citizens and protection of property.
“One of our state missions is domestic operations,” said Tech. Sgt. Haong Dao, 151st SFS flight chief. “This is what we train for, so whenever there's civil unrest, or there's any kind of natural disaster we are always ready and there to assist.”
When asked about their quick response time, Dao said he knew about the planned protests in downtown Salt Lake City, and as soon as he and his fellow security forces Airmen received the alert that the situation had escalated they began preparing in the event they were called in to support.
“This is an emotional and unique time in our history. It has been almost 60 years since the last time the state has requested the Utah Air National Guard to provide support to local civil authorities,” said Col. Kurt Davis, 151st Air Refueling Wing commander. “I am proud of how quickly our Airmen responded to the governor’s call, and to the excellent support they provided to our local law enforcement.”
National Guardsmen have a unique role. While active duty and reserve military members support the federal government, National Guardsmen support their state and tend to have strong ties to the community they serve in. Nearly three quarters of the 1,400 Airmen serving in the Utah Air National Guard, serve on a part-time basis. Several members of the 151st SFS work for civilian-law enforcement agencies in addition to their part-time Guard jobs.
“We felt a responsibility to be there to help. We have members of our squadron that were downtown in their civilian capacity,” said Tech. Sgt. Desirae Tracey, 151st SFS Antiterrorism Program manager. “Our lieutenant was there working with the Salt Lake City Police Department, as well as another Airmen in our squadron who is part of a SWAT team for the police department.”
2nd. Lt. Gordon Worsencroft, who serves part time in the Utah Air National Guard as the 151st SFS operations officer, is the lead sergeant for the Salt Lake Police Department’s Public Order.
“When my command informed me that the National Guard was deploying to assist I was relieved. I cannot fully express how I felt when I heard that my squadron, the 151st Security Forces, was on their way," said Worsencroft. “It was a tremendous honor to have them on the front line with their civilian police brothers and sisters. Their specialized training was crucial to this particular crisis, I was able to integrate them into my plan as we helped to restore order in our community.”
Both Tracey and Dao commented they were grateful their squadron is trained in law enforcement and combat arms. They are ready to protect and serve their fellow Airmen and the communities of Utah, around the clock with similar responsibilities as civilian officers, including responding to emergencies, directing traffic and investigating crimes.
“It was good to be able to fall back on our training, knowing we can help keep people safe. It was definitely a jarring experience. There were thousands of people. You could smell the burning cars. As we walked down the road we could see windows busted out of buildings. People were screaming, and they were throwing rocks,” said Tracy. “It was nice to be able to rely on the gear, the person next to your side, and the person in front of you.”
In addition to its monthly drills, the 151st SFS have participated in domestic operations training with the Utah Highway Patrol for the past four years. This relationship between the two agencies was beneficial as they worked together the week of May 30, 2020. To help keep the lines of communication open, team leads from both UHP and the 151st SFS stayed together and were able to relay messages and commands to their people as they came in.
“The communication flowed so beautifully the first night we got down there. We immediately met up with the Airmen who train with us in security forces, but were working in their civilian capacity as law enforcement and they helped get us set up and stayed in good communication with us while we were there,” said Tracy.
For the next seven days the Airmen took shifts ready to provide assistance to civil authorities as needed.
“I’m thankful for my squadron, they responded quickly and were dedicated to the mission, all of their training paid off," said Worsencroft. "It’s great to see the Utah Air National Guard represented so well with such professionalism. I’m extremely proud to be part of their leadership. It’s humbling to lead such fine Airmen.”
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