The nation’s trust in security at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland — home of Air Force One — was “eroded” when a man gained unauthorized access and boarded a military transport jet on Feb.4, the base commander said in a memo to his force.
“The nation’s eyes are on Joint Base Andrews almost every day because of the national security missions we are tasked to execute,” Air Force Col. Tyler Schaff, installation commander, said in a Feb. 9 memo to his force obtained by Air Force Times. “We must maintain the trust and confidence of our nation and those we serve. This trust was eroded because we allowed an individual to penetrate our layered security and ultimately, was able to access America’s Airfield.”
The man, identified by the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office as Joseph Armstrong, 36, didn’t cause any damage. Armstrong, who was not named by base authorities, was booked by the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation and given a federal summons for trespassing and turned over to local law enforcement because he had two outstanding warrants, base officials said.
However, the fact that he was able to breach base security and board a C-40 transport jet used to ferry VIP passengers, could have been “catastrophic to our nation’s leadership and could have had a disastrous ending,” Schaff wrote in the memo.
“We must do better, we must learn from this learn from this unacceptable incident and we must ensure an intrusion like this never happens again,” Schaff wrote.
Saying he is standing behind his force, Schaff wrote that he understands “the pressure you face each shift, knowing that as Defenders, you must be right 100 percent of the time, and a bad actor only needs to be lucky once.”
Directing comments to security forces at the base, Schaff said that he was “reinforcing your authority to not allow access” if visitors don’t have the proper credentials and are not properly vetted, identified or cleared “regardless of who they are or who they work for.”
Schaff added that “several technology upgrades have been funded and are awaiting installation,” the base.
He did not specify what those are and base public affairs officials could not immediately say.
“But there is more to do in upgrading our technology to augment the important work each of you do each day on the front lines of America’s Airfield,” Schaff wrote. “It is my mission to provide the 316th Wing Defenders the resources, time, training and technology needed to be successful.”
In the wake of the JBA intrusion, the Air Force announced it was reviewing security practices around the world, officials said Feb. 5.
“Everyone is taking this very seriously,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a press conference. “The acting secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff are going to order the Air Force Inspector General to fully investigate this.”
The Air Force IG investigation will also include installations worldwide, said Kirby.
“It is not just limited to Andrews,” he said.
The Air Force will “launch a comprehensive review of installation security and trends,” Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman, told Military Times. “Once complete, we will publicly share the results of the investigation into the breach at Joint Base Andrews. We are still gathering information and facts, but we can assure you, installation security is of critical importance to the Department of the Air Force.”
In addition, JBA and other Air Force Bases suspended “Trusted Traveler” programs allowing easier visitor access.
While JBA officials confirmed the move was in reaction to the breach, others would not say.
“In order to maintain operational security, Joint Base Langley-Eustis does not discuss details regarding changes to security measures,” spokesman Mike Reeves told Air Force Times on Feb. 8.
The JBA breach followed one at RAF Mildenhall in England on Jan. 23, when a man drove through an exit gate and onto the base.
It was the second gate breach there in less than four years.
The JBA intruder entered the base a day ahead of President Joe Biden’s flight out of JBA to Delaware.
The base is home to the 316th Wing, 89th Airlift Wing and Air Force One, the 113th Wing, ANG Readiness Center, 459th Air Refueling Wing and Naval Air Facility Washington.
Known as “The President’s Wing,” the 89th Airlift Wing serves as the elite Air Mobility Command wing for transporting VIPs around the world, according to the base Facebook page.
“Not only does Andrews provide service for America’s senior officials, but also kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, popes, and local and foreign military leaders make Andrews AFB their first stop in the United States,” it states.
Technically, “Air Force One” is used to designate any Air Force aircraft carrying the president, but it is now standard practice to use the term to refer to specific planes that are equipped to transport the commander in chief, according to the White House homepage.
Today, this name refers to one of two highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000.
The Air Force designation for the aircraft is VC-25A. It is only referred to as Air Force One when the president is on board.
White House officials told Military Times the intruder never got close to that aircraft.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.