By Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs / Published May 27, 2014
Staff Sgt. Joshua Hellmich sorts through a dumpster of trash looking for OPSEC violations April 18, 2014, in Southwest Asia. Through these inspections and the uniform collection bins, almost 1.5 tons of unserviceable uniform items were collected during the past year and set aside for destruction. The uniforms were destroyed to ensure they do not end up being utilized improperly if discarded with normal trash. Hellmich is a member of the force protection flight of the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker)
A pile of unserviceable uniforms items await destruction during a training burn by the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department April 18, 2014, in Southwest Asia. The uniforms were collected over the course of a year and were destroyed to ensure they do not end up being utilized improperly if discarded with normal trash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker)
Master Sgt. Kenneth Kline sets fire to a pile of unserviceable uniforms items await destruction April 18, 2014, during a training burn in Southwest Asia. The burn destroyed the excess uniform items to ensure they do not end up being utilized improperly if discarded with normal trash. Kline is a firefighter with the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker)
Senior Airman Brett Olsen monitors a training fire used to destroy a pile of unserviceable uniforms items April 18, 2014, in Southwest Asia. The uniforms were collected over the course of a year and were destroyed to ensure they do not end up being utilized improperly if discarded with normal trash. Olsen is a firefighter with the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Burke Baker)
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --
Staff Sgt. Joshua Hellmich has done more than his fair share of "dumpster diving."
It's up to this young NCO, along with members of his team assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's force protection flight, to ensure that no piece of critical information leaves the installation. It's the six-year veteran's third deployment and his second assigned as a force protection Airman.
"That's actually a big misconception. We don't get in the dumpsters and dig around," Hellmich said. "The truck has a winch that lifts the back of the dumpster and we use meat hooks to grab stuff and tear open the bags of garbage looking for operational security violations. But I have gotten some weird looks when I tell people I'm the sanitation engineer here on 'The Rock.'"
One of the most critical items these Airmen find is uniforms discarded in the trash instead of the specially designated collection bins for uniform items.
"Unfortunately, the force protection teams find uniform items in the dumpsters weekly," said Maj. Terri Zielinski, the OPSEC program manager for the installation. "They find more items when there is a large turnover of personnel on base. Strong OPSEC refresher training at the unit levels usually reduces the number of OPSEC violations found in the dumpsters."
On Sept. 14, 2012, 15 Taliban saboteurs dressed in U.S. Army uniforms cut through concertina wire and began an assault on the British military base, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan. The attack resulted in the death of two U.S. Marines, more than a dozen American and British forces injured, destruction of six AV-8B Harrier jets and the damage of multiple U.S. and coalition aircraft and facilities. The attack reinforced the importance of disposing of unwanted uniform items properly.
In a memorandum communicating the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing's OPSEC policy, the wing commander outlined his expectations for Airmen assigned to the base.
"OPSEC is our first line of defense against any adversary who seeks to cause harm to members or assets of the 386(th) AEW," Col. John Klein said in the memo. "The threat to operations is real and robust. Poor security practices jeopardize operations, as well as the safety of personnel deployed to support those operations."
All the uniform items, whether found in the trash or collected in the uniform bins, are carefully sorted. Those that are determined to be serviceable are taken to the Airman's Attic on base and redistributed to service members needing additional uniform items. Those items that are determined to be unserviceable are earmarked for destruction.
The base fire department lent a hand in the disposal of the uniforms by piling them into a large pit atop pallets and setting them on fire April 18.
"It's more cost effective for us to destroy the items here, in-theatre, than it is to box and ship all of the items back to the (United) States for destruction," Zielinski said. "This amount of uniform items was too much for our incinerator, so this seemed a more efficient alternative."
According to Zielinski, approximately $105,000 worth of unserviceable uniform items, including boots, that were collected over a 12-month period, were destroyed during the blaze. The uniform items made up the majority of an estimated 1.5 tons of material that was destroyed.
"The base fire department has been very helpful by burning the excess unwanted and unserviceable uniforms during their training burns," Zielinski said. "Not only is it more cost effective to destroy the unwanted and unserviceable uniforms locally than returning them stateside, but it gives the fire department more material to use for training burns at no cost. Both purposes save the Air Force time and money."