Editor’s Note: This article is Part I of a series highlighting unique opportunities available to service members as a result of joint basing.
The U.S. Air Force’s Security Forces has a long history dating back to World War II. Since 1942, the team we used to identify as the Army Air Forces have evolved to the security forces known today.
In 1952, five years after the birth of the Air Force, Airmen began to transition away from Army military occupation codes to Air Force specialty codes. One of the changes implemented over time was commanders of security forces squadrons would no longer be called provost marshal, while our Army counterparts kept provost marshal as an enduring identifier of their commanders.
In order to further build cohesion between the Air Force and Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the 627th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) commander, Maj. Michael Holt, has also been named the JBLM deputy provost marshal, making him the first Airman to hold the position in over half a century.
“I am the only operational provost marshal in 50 years that has law enforcement, resource and personnel security and installation access control,” Holt said. “I found that in the 1950s when we actually separated from the Army we were called Air Provost Marshals, but in the 60s we transitioned to air police and now we’re security forces. It’s been a long time.”
Ted Solonar, JBLM Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) deputy director, has recently been an advocate for Holt being the deputy provost marshal and has worked alongside him since he started the position in the beginning of this fiscal year.
“I think this is a great thing,” Solonar said. “As a joint base, it is imperative that we have the full spectrum of knowledge and experience to provide the highest level of service we can to the entire joint base. With the SFS commander also being the deputy provost marshal, it allows the DES to fully support the Air Force mission here and represent the entire JBLM community. I think both Airmen and Soldiers significantly benefit from working side-by-side with one another.”
The road to cohesion between two military branches can be a bumpy one, but by working together and learning one another’s processes, it can become much smoother.
“Other directorates or units may have had negative experiences with joint basing,” Holt said. “At the end of the day, if we just worry about taking care of Airmen and Soldiers regardless of what uniform they wear, it eases transitions. Mr. Solonar and I get along very well. We’re probably cut from the same cloth, he just happens to be an Army civilian and I’m an Air Force major. We speak the same language.”
Interoperability is a two-way street and both the Air Force and Army can learn from one another as they work together at JBLM.
“I think JBLM works very hard to focus on service to the community over the color of uniform being served,” Solonar said. “In the DES, it has always been about our mission to the installation and the people that live and work here. We have always sought to draw on the best practices of both the Air Force and Army to further build capability to serve this community.
“I truly enjoy [working with Air Force],” he continued. “As a retired Army officer, I have learned and gained perspectives that have made me a better leader and allowed me to be a better resource for the leaders and people I serve. The DES has grown considerably from the integration of Air Force security forces, fire fighters and civilians and is a much more capable organization today.”
The joint base environment provides Airmen and Soldiers with opportunities to expand their skill set and learn from other branches’ counterparts, and the leaders at JBLM saw that opportunity in Holt becoming the deputy provost marshal.
“I think they see it as an opportunity to do what joint basing was meant to do; give people opportunities they wouldn’t normally have,” Holt said. “This is my first time working with the Army in a garrison capacity and it’s helped me see the ‘art of soldiering’ … how they discipline and praise. Their leadership style is different and there are some things I will take back and put in my leadership toolbox.”
This opportunity for complete integration has and will continue to help improve both Air Force and Army operations. Holt stressed a reluctance in the past to share operations jointly has created divisions.
“Divisiveness has hurt joint basing,” Holt said. “It has kept people in their little box and maintained stereotypes about the Army and Air Force.
“When you have Soldiers working with defenders and vice versa, I think they understand better what we bring to the fight and we get to understand better what they bring to the fight,” he continued. “It allows opportunities to learn and grow for both sides.”
Over the course of history, the Air Force has created its own heraldry and legacy as it distinguished itself from the Army where it began. Joint-basing practices have allowed the two branches to integrate once again and benefit from each other’s strengths to become more capable to complete their respective missions.