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Feeling the blues: The 934th Airlift Wing celebrates National Police Week 2023

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AIR RESERVE STATION, Minn. --  

Honoring the fallen and continuing to fight for a cause is noble and brave. Often we pay remembrance to our fallen service members, but our first responders also deserve recognition for the sacrifices and call-of-duty they make regularly.

In May, the 934th Airlift Wing honored the sacrifices of the police forces during National Police Week. Each day of the week, the 934th Security Forces Squadron held an event to dedicate each passing day to their fallen members.

“I think it’s a great way for us to remember and pay tribute to all those fallen law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty, specifically for U.S. Security Force defenders and Air Force Office of Special Investigation agents,” said Maj. Ryan Buatala, the 934th SFS commander. “It’s something I feel we owe to those members who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us.”

The 934th Airlift Wing and 934th SFS celebrated Police Week with many events to commemorate the fallen. The first day’s event was Coffee with Cops, which led to a unique opportunity for 934th AW members to utilize the Firearms Training Systems training. FATS is a special weapons training and familiarization platform to introduce situational awareness and sustain firearms marksmanship skills.  

“Coffee with Cops is a way for us to interact with the base populace,” Buatala said. “Most people, of course, see the Airmen up at the gate or in a patrol car during a traffic stop.”

This event was meant to bring about conversations between service members across the 934th AW and the 934th SFS in a comfortable setting. The rest of the week was filled with events such as a Jail and Bail fundraiser, a Police Week ceremony, a Burger Burn roadside cleanup and finally, a 12-hour ruck to remember the fallen. The fundraiser was used to help the 934th SFS booster club.

“The money for the fundraiser went to our local Friends of Law Enforcement chapter,” he said. “That Friends of Law Enforcement chapter helps us out on anything from our holiday parties to retirement gifts.”

The local organization also helps with events such as funerals.

“If we have a defender who loses a family member, our Friends of Law Enforcement will send flowers,” Buatala said. “If we have a defender who falls on hard times, that organization will step up and try to give them a grant.”

Police Week is meant to remember the fallen defenders and to recognize those who are currently working in the law enforcement profession. It is also about bringing to light what these members perform daily. The job is different from many others in the Air Force due to its combat arms nature, according to Master Sgt. Robin Barber, the 934th SFS First Sgt.

“They are held to a different standard and expectation because they have so many responsibilities,” she said. “They continuously arm up with a weapon every day. It’s definitely a different standard.”  

The typical hours and job duties that most Airmen experience Monday through Friday are different for security forces members simply because of limited flexibility.

“These guys have to do 24-7 watch, which is incredibly taxing, especially with all the manning difficulties we have in the Air Force,” Barber said. “These guys are no joke. When the Wing commander authorizes delayed reporting or telework, where the base is shut down, these guys get zero wiggle room. They report promptly on time every day.”

The job is consistently asking the Airmen of the 934th SFS to work round-the-clock and to give it their all. They may even work after hours due to any unforeseen circumstances.

“These guys don’t get to go home early,” Barber said. “They don’t get to call in late. They don’t get to be late. Their shift is consistent. They are always at their posts ready to respond.”

Training plays a big part in how successful a police officer can be. The variety of training that is needed and required to stay diligent and informed in the law enforcement profession is a full-time job, Barber said.

“They are constantly training because everything that a security forces member does involves a method of use-of-force,” Barber said. “Whether they have a gun, taser, baton or using their verbal judo skills, they are armed with various abilities to respond professionally and appropriately in all ethical and legal aspects that the situation calls for.”  

When talking about the hard-working trait of his law enforcement personnel, Buatala is constantly in admiration of everything they do daily.

“The sacrifices that our defenders make is something that I don’t think a lot of people understand or see,” Buatala said. “Those eight-hour days easily turn into 10-hour days, and they lose out on time with their families. But they do it with a smile on their face, and it’s just amazing to me their level of commitment.”

Police Week honors the fallen and celebrates the defenders still serving. Barber said these officers put their lives on the line every day, all while trying to balance a regular life.

“You need the police on your worst day,” she said. “They play a role of security and safety, but they are also people that have everyday life struggles and positives. They’re people too, and they all have the same worries anyone else has.”