Protecting the community: Security officers work to keep public safe

(From left:) Sgt. Michael Speis, a Fort Meade security officer, listens as Sgt. Thomas Sherman Easton, also a security officer, talks to Robert Henry, chief of the Access Control Branch at the Directorate of Emergency Services, about his duties. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)

The security officers at the installation’s five access control points do more than just check IDs.

From searching vehicles and regulating traffic flow to detaining suspected criminals, Fort Meade’s Department of the Army civilian security officers are trained professionals.

“We have one of the best Department of the Army Civilian Security Guard programs in the U.S.,” said Robert Henry, chief of the Access Control Branch at the Directorate of Emergency Services. “These guys are held to the standard.”

The security officers who serve under Henry’s command are responsible for overseeing access control at each of the gates, which includes not only checking vehicle passengers for proper identification but also searching vehicles as required; regulating the flow of traffic entering and leaving Fort Meade; observing the installation’s perimeter to watch for signs of unlawful intrusion, espionage or sabotage; confiscating contraband or other controlled items; and detaining people suspected of criminal activity.

Security officers also provide protection to general officers, foreign dignitaries and high-ranking members of the local, state and federal governments who visit Fort Meade. They also ensure the safety of personnel and protect government property in the event of an emergency.

“I run a tight ship,” Henry said of his security force.

Henry said the Fort Meade community may not know that security officers are often veterans and/or retired law enforcement personnel, some having college degrees. They undergo intensive training to keep the installation safe.

All security officers must be at least 21 years old and pass a background check and a Department of Defense Access National Agency and Inquiries check for employment. They also must undergo an annual medical examination and pass an annual physical agility test that requires 19 pushups and the completion of 1.5 miles in 17 minutes and 30 seconds.

Security officers are armed, so every six months they must qualify to carry a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and M4 rifle and be able to use related weapons such as handguns, shotguns and other automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

They also must be qualified to operate government vehicles.

Every six months the officers receive a use-of-force briefing through DES. They also engage in active-shooter training and unarmed self defense, and receive instruction on how to properly use an Armament Systems and Procedure baton and OC spray (Oleoresin Capsicum, a deterrent stronger than pepper spray).

Security officers are on probation for two years after being hired.

Most officers work 12-hour shifts several days per week. They also work rotating 12-hour weekend shifts to ensure that all the security officers get a weekend off.

Deterring Danger

Henry said security officers are expected to perform their duties with a high standard of professional conduct toward the public.

“I run a top-notch program and I don’t play,” he said.

Henry will not hesitate, he said, to dismiss employees who do not meet the job’s requirements or fail their probation period.

“Our security officers must support the Fort Meade community and Department of the Army civilians,” he said.

All efforts are aimed toward protecting the community.

“The bottom line is that Fort Meade does not want any criminals coming on post,” Henry said. “We really are about keeping this post safe. If anything happens, it’s going to happen at the gates.”

In addition to their access control duties, many security officers are also instructors at the Department of the Army Civilian Security Guard Academy at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Sgt. Michael Speis, a security officer and veteran, said the public is mistaken if it believes that he and his colleagues only check IDs at the gate.

For example, Speis said that in his time at Fort Meade, security officers have stopped motorists at the gates who have outstanding warrants or have been in possession of prescription drugs that they illegally sold in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Security officers stop such criminal activity by detaining motorists until they can be apprehended by the military police.

Despite such important duties, there has been a reduction in the number of security officers. Last year, there were more officers to man the gates. Since then, there has been a reduction of officers.

Henry said the reduction is due to budget cutbacks Armywide.

However, there has not been a decrease in the number of vehicles coming on post. The number has increased due to the establishment of U.S. Cyber Command and other intelligence agencies.

As a result, the security officers are working more overtime hours.

“The security officers are working more than they’re supposed to, which means a bigger stress to the security force,” Henry said.

For additional manpower, Henry has an informal agreement with the installation’s Navy and Air Force units to provide Airmen and Sailors to help check IDs. Currently, four Sailors and one Airman volunteer at the gates.

Although Easton said he doesn’t mind the overtime, he said it can be an additional stress for other security officers who are married with children.

“We do need more personnel,” he said.

Dealing With The Public

Henry said that while good customer service is a requirement for his security officers, dealing with the public can be the most challenging part of the job.

He said the job can be tense when motorists don’t have their proper credentials, vehicles must wait in line so security checks can be conducted or the Automated Installation Entry system is slow.

“The officers are under scrutiny their whole shift,” Henry said. “I wish the public would be more understanding of the position.”

Henry advises that motorists should be sure to have their proper credentials before arriving at the gates. He also said it is helpful to not talk on cellphones and to wear seat belts.

“If there’s a line, sit back and relax,” he said. “If you want to get on post early, plan your day accordingly if you travel during rush hour.”

He asked the public not to take their frustrations out on the security officers. They are not responsible for drivers in other cars or the functioning of the AIE system.

Dissatisfied motorists are encouraged to contact Henry at DES about any concerns before sending a negative comment to the garrison commander, he said.

“Get to know the men and women at the gates. Be friendly, be open,” Henry said. “A successful day is every security officer going home safe at the end of their shift.”

Editor’s Note: To contact Chief Robert Henry at DES, call 301-677-6030.

For a related story on guards Spies and Easton, click here.

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