The latest Oklahoman to die in Afghanistan wasn't killed by a roadside bomb or an insurgent ambush.
Army Staff Sgt. Rex Schad, 26, of Edmond, died March 11 in a so-called “insider attack.”
An Afghan policeman picked up a machine gun from the back of a pickup and opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers and his fellow Afghan police officers.
The incident was the latest in a trend of insider attacks that have killed dozens of U.S. military personnel. It is Air Force Tech Sgt. Steven Ely's job to make sure airmen at Bagram Air Field are trained in case of such an attack.
Ely, 31, of Duncan, is a 12-year Air Force veteran. After high school, he tried college, attending classes at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.
“I wasn't the role model child. I grew up kind of rough,” Ely said Tuesday during a telephone interview from Afghanistan. “I didn't do so hot in school and was looking for some other options.”
Ely joined the Air Force, specializing in security forces. He has trained special reaction teams, the Air Force's version of a SWAT team, and Air Force snipers. As the threat of insider attacks grew, the Air Force needed someone like Ely to teach his fellow airmen how to react in case of an active shooter on base.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in November on the nomination of Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. to become commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked about the insider threats.
Collins said the killings were “absolutely devastating to the families of American service members since they are trying to train and help these Afghan forces … And I think that these attacks also are jeopardizing the willingness of our partners to continue their own missions in Afghanistan.”
Dunford, who took over the international forces last month, called insider threats “a critical issue” that was a priority for him and Afghan leaders. NATO forces have instituted a variety of approaches to protect against insider attacks.
One of those approaches is a fairly simple one — train the troops on how to react when such an attack happens.
At Bagram, that job falls to Ely. All airmen at Bagram Air Field have to take his course, which consists of one to two hours of classroom training on warning signs of a potential insider threat and procedures for how to react and set up security if such an attack occurs.
Ely then takes airmen to the base's shooting range.
“All Air Force personnel get trained on their weapons back at home,” Ely said. “We try to do a couple of different things. We get them in positions other than normal firing positions. We simulate that they might be sitting in a chair eating or at their job.”
All airmen on a base that is in an active battlefield area — like Bagram — are armed. Most carry the military's standard M-4 rifle. Those with jobs that make it too inconvenient to carry a rifle have semi-automatic pistols.
Ely said his goal is to give airmen experience with the kind of situations they might face during an insider attack so they are confident they know how to react if the unthinkable happens.
It's not difficult for Ely to take that job seriously. Every time another soldier like Schad is killed in an insider attack, it hits home.
“It definitely affects you,” Ely said. “It makes you want to give 100 percent and get your point across and train everybody as best you can.”
Contributing: Chris Casteel,