Taking It to the Streets
By 1st Lt. Chris Hoyler , 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 12, 2009
Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea -- Go anywhere in the Air Force and talk to someone who has served a tour in Korea. When they talk about what makes Osan Air Base great, the social scene is bound to be mentioned.
Of the tens of thousands of Department of Defense personnel defending the Korean peninsula, there are hundreds, if not thousands, that travel to Osan to go downtown to partake in the festivities at the scores of bars and restaurants. For their safety, there are 12 Airmen from the 51st Security Forces Squadron looking out for them every night. These Airmen comprise Town Patrol.
"We're responsible for protecting a large amount of personnel in a small area off base without having the resources, technology and infrastructure that you have available on a military installation," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Van Hoose, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Town Patrol. "We're not protecting the resources; we're protecting the people that make those resources work."
The streets and walking area of the Songtan entertainment district, which flows directly up to the Osan main gate and encompasses the area Town Patrol focuses on, are often crowded with street vendors, vehicles, motorized scooters and bicycles. While the average Osan Airmen is used to this scene and doesn't give it a second thought while traveling, Town Patrol is always scanning the surrounding areas for visual oddities that could be dangerous.
"The bottom line is we're out there to ensure safety," said Senior Airman Jared Sweeney, 51st SFS Town Patrolman. "We look for things like cars on the main strip, or backpacks inside the bars which could both be a form of improvised explosive devices.
"Force Protection comes first but if we see anything that could be a safety hazard we do what we can to solve the problem."
Solving problems is a nightly issue for Town Patrol, which starts their weekday shift early in the evening with a trip to the armory. After getting properly armed, the team heads out to the streets. The Airmen then split into separate, smaller teams which hold different responsibilities during the early parts of the shift.
"One team, for example, is responsible for placing the bollards up to block any traffic from entering the main strip," Airman Sweeney said. "That has to be done by 8 p.m.
"That same team is also responsible for EOD checks. EOD checks consist of many of the off-limits areas, such as tattoo parlors, barber shops, pharmacies and the open market area here in Songtan."
From there, the night generates into a combined shift focusing on force protection concerns. For Town Patrol, that means conducting walkthroughs of the many bars and restaurants and, while traveling through the streets to each of those facilities, staying aware of everyone and everything.
"We have to look out for individuals walking around, to make sure they are not getting too drunk and making sure they have a good wingman with them," said Senior Airman Andre Hernandez, 51st SFS Town Patrolman.
This is where Town Patrol strives to find a balance for the patrons throughout downtown. Airman Hernandez said that it can be difficult to explain the rules and regulations to intoxicated people who, quite simply, do not want Town Patrol's presence while they try to "have a good time."
"We are not there to bust people for having a good time," Sergeant Van Hoose said. "There are more than 100 bars in the area, so we know people are going to be drinking. Unfortunately, alcohol makes some people do things that they would never do sober.
"On a weekend night we see thousands of different faces. Out of that mass amount of people, we have contact with less than one percent of them. That equates to most taking care of themselves or having a good friend taking care of them."
It helps that various agencies and all units throughout the Korean peninsula make their personnel well aware of the rules upon arrival. Every area on the peninsula has a curfew and their own off-limits establishments - for the Osan area there are currently only two off-limits establishments and the curfew stands at midnight to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3 to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with a flexible curfew for holidays that fall on weekdays.
"If I could go the rest of my time on Town Patrol without having to apprehend anyone, I would be a very happy man," Airman Sweeney said. "Every time you come in contact with an individual downtown you don't know what to expect because everyone reacts differently when they have been drinking. So doing everything you can to make sure the person stays calm throughout the whole situation can be challenging sometimes."
It's a challenge that the Town Patrol Airmen volunteer for, one that involves a lengthy selection process. According to Sergeant Van Hoose, each applicant requires selection and approval from five people in an Airman's chain of command.
"Having law enforcement experience on your resume helps," Airman Hernandez said.
No one is slotted for Town Patrol when they arrive on station, Sergeant Van Hoose added. It's something that requires sacrifice, as Airmen are expected to refrain from joining in on the evening activities downtown. The Town Patrol Airmen wouldn't have it any other way.
"Most jobs I've had in my five years entailed a lot of sitting around and feeling like you're not doing much," said Airman Sweeney. "With Town Patrol you're always active. There are only a couple bases that have this job so I'm extremely grateful to be given this opportunity while I'm here. I love doing this job and wouldn't want to do any other job while I'm here."