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MCAS Miramar keeps eye on security

Security is what keeps the top officials at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar up at night.

Lt. Col. Thomas Fries, executive officer of MCAS Miramar, spoke on the base during a luncheon held by the San Diego chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) on Tuesday.

"It probably wasn’t difficult to get on the base," he said, addressing attendees at the Commissioned Officer's Club. "We are always looking for ways to make security simpler yet more robust and make sure what we are doing is correct.”

Its people are the most important asset to keep safe, he points out.

“You can lose the airplanes, but you aren’t going to be able to replace people," he said. "Security-wise, you’ve got to think of people first, but when you have a $100 million airplane sitting on a flight line, there’s a whole other connection."

Fries' mission is to support the tenant that's on site: the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, or the major West Coast aviation unit of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“That is the one who owns the airplanes," he said.

He calls MCAS a “little town,” stocked with its own police force, various departments, family advocacy centers, a movie theater, McDonald’s, gas stations and a barber shop.

Its marines have the daunting task of protecting what goes on inside.

"In the past I think a lot more was internal. We did a lot of things on base ... everything was centered around our town," he said.

But as folks commute to MCAS from as far away as Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, the base becomes less of a city and more open.

“With that openness comes a security concern of how you work the gates,” he said.

Each October, a mega air show attracts 500,000 people to the base over a three-day period.

During the event marines may appear to just be waving traffic, but the highly-trained military members are in reality keeping out a watchful eye.

“So, it’s how do we find these problems before they happen,” he said.

Like any “little town” battling a tough economy, Miramar’s goal is the same: to find ways to trim costs while offering the same services.

“Everything costs money. Money is a huge issue as it always will be. At the Pentagon, we said, ‘it’s not about money. It’s all about money.’ It is here, too,” he said.

One initiative at Miramar is to build on its green energy.

“Get cheaper energy, be able to sustain things a bit better, reclaim water. Things that are costing us money,” he said.

As the government's budget shrinks, so do military units. The Marine Corps is in the midst of trimming down from 202,000.

“Marines that we have working here face a difficult future now,” he said. “In our famous fashion of getting it done we are going to do it and we are going to do it really quick."

A lot of that can be done through attrition, he said.

"But when you do that you want to make sure you are keeping the best around," he said.

He sees exits every week.

“It’s amazing to see faces eager and ready to go out into the civilian world. The question they have is, 'How I can take off this uniform and transfer my abilities?'”

MCAS's transition readiness seminar is there to prepare them for the real world and translate the skills they've acquired in the Marine Corps.

“The technology nowadays is immense,” he said, admitting he’s a Twitter novice.

Young marines, however, are building up a strong understanding of social media and making their name searchable on the internet.

“Marines coming out there know these things and have an intense ability to connect that way. It’s interesting how they’ve built that transition readiness,” he said.

MCAS's transition readiness seminar is there to teach marines how to effectively communicate what they can offer to hiring companies in universal terms, rather than using complex “military speak,” he noted.

"Our biggest problem we have right now is we don’t get marines there [to transition readiness] early enough," he said.

That's because they may make the decision to leave quickly.

"If they didn’t make the next ranking, they figure they will get out the following month," he said. “We get these transition readiness briefs to these marines probably later than we would like to."

Fries, a decorated fighter pilot who has flown in several combat missions, spent three years at the Pentagon helping with the F-35 transition program.

The advances in technology have kept the F-35 planes from getting into the air and getting built as fast as they would like.

"There's a data recorder in the airplane. We were fighting over 64 megabytes. What are you going to do with 64 megabytes. We said, how about putting in a terabyte?"

The contract, however, was written for 64 megabytes and they were told it couldn't be done.

“That inflexibility we see nowadays creeping into our mission is something we need to be more proactive about and ahead of the game," he said.

The F-35, which will replace the AV-8Bs and F-18s, is MCAS' "next evolution of aviation," said the graduate of the Navy Strike Fighter Weapons School (TOP GUN).

The Marine Corps will purchase the B and C variants and start flying them at Miramar, which was formerly the site of the exclusive flight academy made famous by "Top Gun" in 1986.

The Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) aircraft would thoroughly impress Maverick, with their supersonic speed, radar-evading stealth, extreme agility and short takeoff/vertical landing capability.

“With that comes a huge logistics trail not only in the military constriction, but also just how we are going to do business,” he said. “Now we are no longer doing business how we’ve done it almost forever. We are doing business in a whole different way.”

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