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Malmstrom embraces private security Print
Apr 7, 2006 By RICHARD ECKE

Malmstrom Air Force Base has begun using private security guards at its visitors center and two gates.

Base Public Affairs Capt. Elizabeth Benn said New Mexico-based Akal Security Inc. is authorized to use 27 guards at the base in a 10-month contract worth about $1.025 million. The contract began Dec. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.

The two co-founders of Akal Security Inc. of New Mexico, Gurutej Khalsa and Daya Khalsa, were born in the United States and later converted to the Sikh religion.

The company reported it was awarded a 10-month, $21 million contract last fall to provide security at 18 Air Force bases and installations from Florida to Guam, including Malmstrom.

A number of other Air Force bases use contracted personnel as guards to help control who enters military bases, Benn said.
According to Benn, standing in a guard shelter or checking credentials in the visitors center meant "a very long day" for Air Force personnel. She said using active-duty personnel for the work did not capitalize on their extensive training.

"That's a better use of government dollars," Benn commented.

She said Air Force security forces continue to patrol the base, perform law enforcement functions, and provide security at missile sites around the area.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Malmstrom personnel usually accepted a window sticker on a vehicle to allow a motorist to enter, explained Capt. Ryan Jensen, base operations officer.

"As long as you had the sticker, the gate guard waved you on," Jensen said.

Security was stepped up sharply after Sept. 11, and these days, everyone in a vehicle entering the base must show identification, he said.

That created "an additional manning requirement" that was not funded, Jensen said. Late last year, private security people were hired "in lieu of giving us more military members," he said.

Jensen said the private guards, who wear a blue security guard uniform, receive 30 hours of general training from Akal, must be certified by the state as an armed guard, and receive 40 more hours of training from the Air Force. The guards must pass a number of tests, including a written test on use of force, he said.

"They go through quite a stringent training process," Jensen said.

Benn said using private security people appears to be working well. She said there is a good relationship between the guards and active-duty personnel.

Based in Espanola, N.M., Akal Security is the federal government's second largest provider of security services.

Spokesman Devinderjit Khalsa noted a 2003 Defense Authorization Act allows the military to contract with private companies for certain types of security work.

"That was mostly because of the deployments" of military personnel to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, Khalsa said. Using private contracted services can be "very cost-effective" for the federal government, he said.

"They're not long-term federal employees," he noted.

A trend toward using private security in addition to soldiers has also held true in Iraq, where the number of private military personnel is about 20,000, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch.

Source Watch said 70 percent of the world's spending on private military security services comes from the United States and Great Britain.

Security guarding is considered to be among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations this decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Benn said the Iraq war is not a large factor at Malmstrom, since most of the base's 1,200 military security people have stayed put during the war. Their mission guarding missiles is considered very important, she said.

Using private security guards at military installations drew a skeptical comment from Mike Winters, an Air Force veteran active in area veterans' issues and projects.

"I'd rather the Air Force did its job protecting its own facility," Winters said. "They're better trained. I feel that's what they're in the military for."

Winters said he didn't mind private security guards working at civilian locations such as the federal courthouse in Great Falls.

But base booster Warren Wenz, a Great Falls attorney, said Thursday he thinks using the private security guards is "just fine."

"They need the enlisted personnel for other duties," Wenz said.
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