Gulfport Base Major Factor In Homeland Security

Much of the world is focused on what our military is doing in Iraq, but the war abroad has made defense at home an even more urgent priority. Members of the 255th Air Control Squadron have been pretty busy lately, trying to keep our land and skies here at home safe.

On any given day, you could find Senior Airman Krosby Keller in an operations module at the Air National Guard base, working on the ground to keep air traffic safe. It's a job that is not taken lightly.

"With the military, they're very intent on training, making sure you know what you're doing because it's real-world, and real-action, and somebody's life could be at stake," said Sr. Airman Krosby Keller of the 255th Air Control Squadron.

Members of the squadron all have a hand in air traffic control and are responsible for many tasks, like satellite communications.

"We take the analog or digital signals, telephone signals, whatever the case may be...we multiplex them together and send it anywhere we need to send it," said MSgt. Robert O'Neal, also a member of the 255th Air Control Squadron.

The Squadron codes and decodes information--a key factor that has won wars in the past and plays a critical role in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We supply encryption keys to the air controllers to be able to talk to each other that way, you won't have the enemy know what you're talking about," said squadron member SSgt. Troy Burton.

Much of the equipment on the base was used in 1999 in Kuwait during Operation Southern Watch. It can be used anywhere in the world, but the squadron's main mission now is homeland security.

"Our mission is to maintain the communication, so we can communicate with other units, to tie in a large scale picture that covers the entire United States and beyond," said Cmdr. Sidney Scarborough.

As we go about our day-to-day lives, people like the members of Air Control Squardron 255 are busy monitoring the skies to protect us from enemies, both foreign and domestic. This base is one of only four in the nation that has an Air National Guard combat readiness training center.