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IP office has work cut out for them

Personnel security specialist Bill King records Marcus Ward’s fingerprints at the 72nd Air Base Wing Information Protection office. Mr. Ward is a new-hire into the 431st Supply Chain Management Squadron. The IP office and its four-person staff print most Tinker Air Force new-hires during their security investigation. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Personnel security specialist Bill King records Marcus Ward’s fingerprints at the 72nd Air Base Wing Information Protection office. Mr. Ward is a new-hire into the 431st Supply Chain Management Squadron. The IP office and its four-person staff print most Tinker Air Force new-hires during their security investigation. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- There are no stupid questions when it comes to information protection and classified documents. Just ask Ron Blackmore, a security specialist in the 72nd Air Base Wing Information Protection office. He insists it to be true.

As one of five civilian employees in the office, he said it is their job to ensure to protect valuable information and the areas that fall under Information Protection: personnel security, information, industrial and operations security.

"Not everybody knows or has the background we have. So what seems like common sense to us is not common sense to everybody," said Mr. Blackmore. "All in all it's about protecting our classified information whether it is through a valid security clearance, inspection programs or through enforcement on contractors."

In order to ensure all aspects are covered, the responsibilities are divided among the office personnel. Personnel security specialists Kent Nichols and Bill King oversee personnel security as a whole and manage the processing of required paperwork before investigators grant approval for anyone to come on base.

"What IP does, all falls under national security; Tinker deals with a lot of sensitive systems and specialized aircraft directly impacting our war-making capabilities. We need to ensure the people working these systems are trustworthy and reliable," Mr. Nichols said. "If we don't do the necessary background checks on these people and lives are lost, millions of dollars are just wasted."

Mr. King said the key to doing their job is to trust their instincts over the system.

"We're all experienced in a security field or background and sometimes the system says one thing, but you have a gut feeling, go with the gut feeling," he said. "Nine times out of 10, if you go with instincts, it works."

Information protection specialist Merle Norman oversees the protection of information security by ensuring compliance standards are followed, training and inspections are done, and safes and vaults are inspected.

"We have to protect our national defenses' classified information and oftentimes when IP goes out for inspections, IP finds security clearances aren't being accomplished in a timely manner and classified is not marked properly," he said. "If you have questions about protection of classified information, please ask; that's why we're here."

Mr. Blackmore is responsible for industrial security and enforces the DOD standards on contractors and said all of the components offer their own set of challenges. In his arena, the rules to protecting classified information change with each new presidential administration and it is his job to stay on top of current regulations.

The four specialists and their chief, Godthea Jackson, are also responsible for upholding OPSEC practices.

The office has their work cut out for them. Ms. Jackson said in the past three years, the entire office turned over and recently, due to resource constraints, they lost a position while gaining more responsibilities.

"This is a highly successful team," she said. "It's great working with these guys. They're awesome."

The information office was first created in 2008 as a sector of the 72nd Security Forces Squadron. It became its own unit under the 72nd ABW as of December 2009.