Staff Sgt. Robert Blackburn, 36th Security Forces Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of the Jungle Enforcement Team, explains the process of the Jungle Patrol qualifying test Aug. 26, 2018, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The test lasted roughly 14 hours and included a number of disciplines such as jungle navigation and managaging cognitive and psychiological resilinecy under stress. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jake M. Barreiro)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- A full moon coats the stark-black sky. Sensory noise from in and out of the yornebush speaks to the primeval forest at Northwest Field, the backyard of Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), Guam. It is past midnight: the hour of the wolf. Feral and noxious noises generating from the foliage signal the fauna that populates the jungle out here. Although they’re obscured by dense foliage and intermittently clouded skies, the wildlife out at Northwest field makes noise without ceasing. A diverse set of species including the Philippine deer, wild boars, brown-tree snakes, banana spiders, packs of feral canines, butterflies, and other vertebrates and spineless beasts vocalize their selves in the jungle, disturbing the quiet night. However, this orchestra of non-predatory animals attracts a predator of a very distinct sort to Northwest Field: poachers.
Unlawfully cutting through the fence and illegally culling the wildlife, poachers pose a serious problem for the 36th Security Forces Squadron here, who are tasked with the protection of all personnel and resources on Andersen AFB.
“Operating in the capacity of law enforcement and security on the installation means we’re responsible for the protection of everything inside the perimeter,” said Capt. Daniel Lambert, 36th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) operations officer.
The perimeter at Andersen AFB is unique however, as a large portion of it is surrounded by dense jungle foliage. Foliage comes with wild animals, and wild animals come with poachers.
For years the Airmen of the 36th SFS have dispatched a Jungle Enforcement Team to prevent poaching. The Airmen assigned to this team are tasked with preventing security breaches, apprehending poachers, and securing the perimeter around the jungle.
“The JET team helps us better protect our resources,” said Lambert. “The people and assets we have here on base are invaluable, and the JET team helps us ensure they are as secure as they can be.”
Capt. Lambert said poachers are problematic for several reasons. The most important is the breaching of Andersen AFB’s perimeter. Secondary concerns include threats to the diverse groups of wildlife and property damage to government assets.
Although the JET operations has been around for some time, there are natural difficulties in the duty. Predominately: maintaining clarity in the darkness and being able to lithely navigate the jungle’s deep morass. Additionally, quietly maneuvering in a night time jungle environment takes professional dedication, and the JET has until recently been filled by eager volunteers.
“In the past, we had dedicated JET team members,” said Lambert. “It eventually tapered off, and when the need arose, we would accept volunteers to perform this uniquely difficult duty.”
The volunteer-basis for JET operations has changed recently as the 36th SFS has re-buffed their efforts to prevent poacher encroachment, securing new and improved equipment while starting a dedicated program that trains and vets a dedicated Shadow Patrol.
This new team allows the selectees to focus on the task of protecting the perimeter. And because the team members are selected after staunch tryouts and training, they’re meant to be thoroughly prepared before penetrating the dense yornebush that will become their duty location.
Staff Sgt. Robert Blackburn, 36th Security Forces Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge JET, is responsible for leading the team and evaluating each Airman’s fitness to scour the jungle. Because of his background in tactics training and different skillsets related to the job, Blackburn was hand-selected to lead this new team.
“When we started this the biggest issue was the training piece,” said Blackburn. “Now we’re focused on training and testing at a very high stress level.”
The training will make a difference, said Blackburn. Each member of the seven-person outfit is set to earn phase 3 tracker certification.
“That means they will all be highly trained at tracking people in adverse environments,” said Blackburn. “That’s something that’s definitely going to help us out.”
The final training test was conducted August 25-26 which challenged the final Airmen cumulatively on their abilities to operate in the uniquely challenging environment. The final test included day and night shooting, hand-to-hand combat, jungle navigation, ability to manage cognitive and physiological challenges under stress, and a stiff ruck march.
Even after the qualifying training is done, Blackburn said he expects there to still be plenty of challenges along the perimeter and in the jungle.
“This is a challenging job because poachers know the land far better than we do,” said Blackburn. “That’s something we’re trying to change with this dedicated team. We’re totally overhauling and enhancing out tactics in the effort to become stealthier.”
The final training session, which began at approximately 5 p.m., outlasted the moonlight, rolling into the to the rays of dawn, which as it released its yellow beams of light into the sky signaled the end of the tryouts. Laid stiff by the night’s ordeals, the Airmen of the 36th SFS evacuate the training grounds better prepared to take on this unique and challenging duty: scouring the shadows and patrolling the jungle to better secure the perimeter of Andersen AFB. For the 36th SFS JET, it’s only a start.
“We’re doing everything we can to improve our ability to protect the perimeter,” said Lambert. “Security starts with the perimeter. We’re securing new technology and we’re going to continue enhancing our training and tactics to ensure the people and resources at Andersen AFB have the best security they can.”