'Keepers of the flame': SFS armorers provide combat firepower to U.S. Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Tucked in the back of Langley Air Force Base's Herron Hall at the base of a stairwell is a cardinal-red door bearing placards warning against unauthorized entry. Beyond the seemingly impregnable door lies a monumental cache of firearms, ammunition and other tactical equipment, meticulously numbered and organized in rolling cases.

This hidden vault is the 633rd Security Forces Squadron armory, the focal point for all firearms, ammunition and law enforcement equipment for not only the base's security forces personnel, but all assigned U.S. Air Force Airmen.

Inside, a small team of dedicated SFS Airmen - the armorers - work to ensure this equipment is not only safeguarded, but issued properly, in serviceable condition and accounted for at all times.

"Our job is to supply SFS [Airmen] on regular day-to day operations for protecting the base," said Senior Airman Mark Walker, 633rd SFS armorer. "Anything they need - weapons, ammunition, less-than-lethal [equipment], radar, radios - they come through us to get it. We're like a 'one-stop shop.'"

Walker explained each piece of gear an Airman takes on shift is issued by the armorers. With up to 30 defenders on shift at any given time, the armory must maintain 24-hour operations to ensure security forces have access to equipment vital to force protection and law enforcement.

Security forces Airmen have multiple levels of force available for daily use including the M4 carbine rifle, M9 pistol, batons and less-than-lethal weapons. Law enforcement patrol Airmen also issue vehicles and radars at the armory.

The armorers' job doesn't end at arming patrol Airmen - they supply gear to Airmen training at the combat arms range, Military Working Dog handlers on duty, visiting cadets training with simulation rounds, and perhaps most importantly, arming every Airman from Langley tasked to deploy across the globe.

"During duty hours, most Airmen pick up their weapons from [the 633rd Logistics Readiness Squadron], but even LRS gets the weapons from us, and if Airmen are leaving for deployment after duty hours, they come to us," Walker said. "We get to help every deploying Airman, and that really increases the emphasis on how important our work is. We're the keepers of the flame."

Between issuing and accepting gear, the small team of armorers must meticulously account for every single piece of equipment every day - a daunting task due to the sheer volume of weapons, ammunition and communications gear in the armory.

In addition to maintaining the arsenal, the armory stores and protects weapons for other units on the installation, including the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team and the 192nd Fighter Wing of the Virginia Air National Guard.

"We literally count the equipment every day, and we can't go home until it's done," Walker said. "We also do 'serialization,' which is cross-referencing each and every piece of equipment to our records once a month."

The armory houses more than government-owned firearms. Airman dormitory residents and visitors with firearms store their weapons at the armory. Additionally, personnel living in base housing must file a record of all personally-owned firearms with the armorers.

Not surprisingly, being the go-to for every weapon on the installation makes the red diamond-grated issue window near the rear of the armory a popular destination. For a room hidden in the back of the squadron headquarters, it is easily one of the most routinely visited spots at Langley.

The armorers said they "wouldn't have it any other way."

"We have a big responsibility down here because we're in charge of every weapon and round of ammo that enters the hands of Airmen here. We take pride in being able to do that," said Walker, who has served in the armory for nearly a year-and-a-half. "We get to know everyone, too.

"The best thing about my job is that I've been able to meet so many new people," he continued. "When I first arrived here as a new Airman, I'd work my shift then go home, so I only got to know the other [Airmen] in my flight. Everyone in our squadron comes to the armory for equipment issues, and I've built connections and friendships from having the opportunity to help them."

The armorer's position is a squadron special duty; interested Airmen apply, complete an interview and are selected by unit leadership. Staff Sgt. Steven Owens, the armory's new assistant noncommissioned officer in charge, said he embraced the chance to take on a new and demanding leadership position.

"I wanted a change of tempo from working on flight, and I worked in the armory at my last base so I generally knew what to expect as an armorer," Owens said. "Getting to be the NCOIC is a step in my career progression because I get to improve my leadership skills in one of the most challenging but mission-critical organizations on the base.

"Without us, our Airmen can't protect and defend the base, and can't go forth into the fight," he added. "We may be stuck here in the back of the building, but we're out there on the frontlines of the fight."