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Defense Couriers: Excellence in secure, rapid movement

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
A two-person team secures a pallet of classified test equipment aboard a small military aircraft at Defense Courier Station Honolulu. Meanwhile, another two-person team leaves DCS San Diego via surface transportation, escorting classified material to a local customer.

As these deliveries are being made, a Soldier books a commercial flight out of Baltimore, executing urgent delivery of a classified document to a government agency. This is just one day in the world of U.S. Transportation Command's Defense Courier Division.

Soon Dover Air Force Base will have a part in this unique division. A new sub-station for USTRANSCOM's Courier service at the Air Freight Terminal, Outsized Cargo Facility is currently under construction here.

Qualified Airmen, Soldiers or Sailors can apply for Defense Courier special duty.

"This is the best job I can ever imagine doing as an Airman," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Vincent, a DCS San Diego courier. "Being a San Diego-based courier offered me a new and exciting job. Normal missions are planned in advance and the schedule is such that I can balance work with my professional and military development."

A fellow Soldier courier agrees. "For me, the most positive side to being a courier is the experience outside my (Military Occupational Specialty)," said Army Sgt. Trend Fate, a courier from DCS Louisville, Ky. "I get to work in a different capacity for the military. It is also a great opportunity to learn a little bit about the other military branches."

Couriers are not typical Airmen, Soldiers or Sailors. They are trusted messengers, assigned to secure and deliver America's most highly classified and sensitive information.

Every day, couriers travel aboard civilian aircraft, drive long road missions and fly global air missions into combat zones in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, said Lt. Col. Leslie Burns, Defense Courier division chief.

These missions demand service before self, she said. The overlying importance of the job they do requires dedication and commitment since the classified cargo is critical to the warfighters, allies and government agencies relying on couriers for secure and efficient service.

"The cargo can range from a small package or briefcase to several pallets," said Sergeant Vincent. "We never know what's actually in the containers ... it's safer that way."
The modes of transport vary depending on the mission at hand.

"We have land missions and flying missions aboard military aircraft," said Sergeant Vincent. "Occasionally, when the regular routes are not quick enough, we don civilian clothes and catch a commercial flight."

Sergeant Fate has a similar mission at her location.

"Here in Louisville, we have both air and surface missions," said Sergeant Fate. "We have small plane missions that allow us to service 14 locations in 10 states. In a single mission, we deliver in up to four states in one day."

USTRANSCOM Defense Courier stations are located at 18 primary worldwide locations and routinely support current global contingencies with the ability to deploy when required, said Colonel Burns.

The opportunity to test the courier capability for real-world contingencies surfaced in the Gulf War. Eight days after Iraqi tanks entered Kuwait, a seven-person defense courier station was deployed to Headquarters, U.S. Central Command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By the end of Operations Desert Shield and Storm, couriers delivered more than one-million pounds of classified and sensitive material.

Legend would have it that a man in a black suit with a briefcase strapped to his arm would be flying around the world and gunning down anyone who got too close to him or his package. The actual world of a courier is less dramatic and does not require super-spies, with '007' status, to do the job. Many servicemembers have the qualifications to become a defense courier.

For example, Sergeant Vincent left his position as a vehicle operations NCO and sought out the courier special duty to expand his breadth of experience and for change.
"I heard about the courier duty," he explained. "I researched it on the Air Force Assignment Management System and Defense Courier Division Web site. At the time, there was a one-year remote courier tour to Bahrain listed. I applied and was accepted with a follow-on assignment to San Diego, and then off for training and for Bahrain I went."

Though there are assignments at locations across the world and the Air Force, Army and Navy all provide servicemembers for the duties, Sergeant Vincent's two assignments so far have both been to Navy locations.

"I like working in the joint-service environment," he elaborated. "I speak fluent Navy lingo now. It's actually awkward trying to speak 'Air Force.'"

Sergeant Fate enjoys being a defense courier, but also feels the joint-service environment has some drawbacks. It's hard to maintain her original MOS knowledge while performing this duty and the Army needs its Soldiers to have recency in operational tours for their own professional development as a Soldier. But she feels the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and believes the experiences she is getting cannot be found easily in the Army alone.

"In addition to traveling, it is exciting to meet people from different backgrounds," she said. "Our customers are throughout the Defense Department. In addition to the Army, Navy and Air Force, we serve the Marines and a number of other government agencies. We also get unique opportunities to serve those who are forward deployed."

The exciting, unique world of the defense couriers is always looking to expand. For Airmen to qualify for a courier position, they must be in the grade of E-5 or above. They must have received a rating of 5 in section IV of their last 5 Enlisted Performance Reports and be able to obtain a final Top Secret clearance. For a complete list of requirements and more information on DCS special duties, refer to their Web site at