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AF 'Reapers' take the spotlight in National Geographic special Sunday

One of the least acclaimed missions in the Air Force is about to get its time in the spotlight.

National Geographic, creator of last year’s successful miniseries “Inside Combat Rescue,” returned to Afghanistan in June 2013 to produce a followup and discovered a unique group of Security Forces airmen whose main mission is to go outside the wire and protect expeditionary bases.

The film crew was at Bagram Air Field on June 18, 2013, when Taliban insurgents attacked, killing Army Sgt. Justin Johnson of the 10th Transportation Battalion at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and Spc. Ember Alt, Spc. Robert Ellis and Sgt. William Moody of the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Fort Carson, Colo.

Airmen with the 822nd Base Defense Group secured the air base, and captured the attention of the National Geographic crew, who had filmed a few combat rescue missions but found that the pace of the pararescuemen had slowed since the filming of the first “Inside Combat Rescue” in 2012.

“When we got back to Afghanistan, fortunately the number of rescues had dramatically decreased, and we didn’t have much to film,” said Noel Siegel, senior vice president of production and development at National Geographic Channel. “And that was when something really incredible and unique happened. We stumbled on a different story line.”

Cameras began following “Reaper 5,” a group of airmen from the 822nd Base Defense Squadron, as they gathered information and tracked down a Taliban leader responsible for attacks on the base.

The TV crews “ got over to see our mission, and they were pretty surprised to see the things we were doing,” said Capt. Chris Hagemeyer, commander of the 822nd.

Airmen wore cameras on their helmets and other cameras were strapped to vehicles as the Reapers visited villages and spoke with local leaders to track down a man they had been following for months, a Taliban leader believed to be responsible for attacks on the base. The story — “Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand” — ends with the group finally meeting their nemesis.

The two-hour special airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday.

The 822nd isn’t a typical Security Forces unit. Unlike other Security Forces duties unit, whose time at home might include writing tickets and riding in patrol cars on stateside bases — this special group of Security Forces airmen spend their time at Moody training to go outside of the wire to protect an expeditionary base such as Bagram.

Airmen who are assigned to the 820th Base Defense Group — which includes the 822nd Base Defense Squadron — told Air Force Times that they knew little about what their units did when they were first assigned. Their deputy commander, Lt. Col. Chris DeGuelle, said that he hopes the additional attention from the television show will lead to more airmen being interested in the work.

Currently, 690 airmen are stationed at Moody in the 822nd, 823rd and 824th base defense squadrons, along with the 105th Base Defense Squadron of the New York Air National Guard at Fort Stewart. The group includes 22 different Air Force Specialty Codes, ranging from Security Forces to physician assistants and intelligence, all focused on keeping the Air Force’s bases safe abroad.

“There’s no better job in the Air Force,” DeGuelle said.

The Security Forces airmen share the spotlight in “Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand” with pararescuemen from the 83rd Rescue Squadron, deployed from Lakenheath, England. Months after the filming, Capt. Christopher Stover, Capt. Sean Ruane, Tech. Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce of the 83rd were killed in a Jan. 7 Pave Hawk crash in England that is still under investigation. The show pays tribute to Stover and Ruane, both HH-60G pilots who are in the show.

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