Welcome to Robins: Security Forces Elite Guard puts its best foot forward

From left, Senior Airman Brenton Taylor, Airman 1st lass Maria Valencia-Ruiz and Senior Airman Derrick Thomas are three of the 22 security forces Airmen serving in the Elite Gate Guard section at Robins. Members must apply for their positions and are chosen based on overall professional customer service and courtesy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton)

From left, Senior Airman Brenton Taylor, Airman 1st lass Maria Valencia-Ruiz and Senior Airman Derrick Thomas are three of the 22 security forces Airmen serving in the Elite Gate Guard section at Robins. Members must apply for their positions and are chosen based on overall professional customer service and courtesy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- In the heat, rain, snow or sleet, the guards stand watch. Sitting in a temperature-controlled vehicle, one might not stop to think about the protectors who control traffic coming onto Robins Air Force Base every day, but they're the first faces 20,000-plus workers see coming into the base each day.

Twenty-two members of the 78th Security Forces Squadron are a part of the Elite Gate Guard section, who were hand-picked through a multi-step process.

"We wanted to put our best foot forward," said Staff Sgt. John Duffin, 78th SFS Elite Gate Guard section NCOIC.

The Elite Gate Guards had to go through a multi-level process to be selected.

Interested applicants submitted a resume and were then tested on physical training.

After an initial culling, the cream-of-the-crop applicants were selected for an interview process with Duffin and Senior Master Sgt. Vincent Dewberry, 78th SFS operations superintendent. The members were chosen based on overall professional customer service and courtesy as well as how they wore their uniform.

A "sunshiney demeanor" was also a special consideration to Duffin as he wanted people coming into the gate to be left with a good feeling before work.

Senior Airman Nicholas Brown has one of those personalities.

"I'm a people person," Brown said.

Originally from Miami, Florida, Brown said he applied for the Elite Gate Guard as a way to stand out from the rest. He is trying to complete his degree from the Community College of the Air Force as well as complete his commercial license to be a pilot. 
"I was reminded why I fell in love with the Air Force in the first place and bring that professionalism and sharpness to the gate," said Brown.

The gate guards selected wear a blue patch signifying their membership in the elite group. The group will rotate every six months, with those who are interested in being a member applying or reapplying.

Airman First Class Nikki Young was assigned to gate duty right out of training but she liked it so much, she decided to apply for the Elite Gate Guard program.

"I like the interaction with people in the morning. I feel like my purpose is to cheer them up," Young said.

She hopes people coming into the gate realize she isn't there just to harass them about wearing their seatbelts, talking on the phone while driving or not having proper car registration.

"There's a lot more to it than wearing all this gear," Young said. "We're here to protect them."  Young joined the Air Force to become more financially stable but she has found a greater purpose for leaving her home in Indiana.

"I joined something that was bigger than myself," she said.

The purpose of the new group was to cut down on the number of complaints received by Security Forces and the long wait times at the gates to get into the base.

Along with the elite guards, more inbound and outbound lanes were opened to help with the flow of traffic. Overall, complaints have dwindled to very few.

Duffin said he used to receive calls and emails every day, all day long about the gate. Now, he maybe fields a handful.

When a guard looks at a base access card and greets them politely, Duffin said that many people feel more secure knowing that someone has actually looked at a card and know who is on base.

"These guys at the gate take a lot of pride in this," Duffin said.