OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A shortage in the Air Force's security ranks has prompted Tinker Air Force officials to begin using private contractors to guard the base's gates.
The change is happening at about 18 other Air Force bases because of the demand for security troops worldwide, officials said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, whose district includes Tinker, said studies have shown private contractors can do the work cheaper.
``It also allows the military to more effectively use their soldiers,'' said Cole, R-Okla. ``Replacing military personnel at the gates frees up men and women for other assignments needed to win the global war on terror.''
Cole, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said contracting security will create jobs for the local economy.
Maj. Brian Dubroff, commander of security forces at Tinker, said the change isn't permanent.
USProtect, a company formed in 2000 to provide security to federal agencies, will be guarding the base's gates.
Kenneth King, chief of guards for USProtect at Tinker, said the company is selective about who is assigned to guard military gates.
The guards must pass background tests similar to those taken by airmen who receive security clearance, Dubroff said.
All the guards go through USProtect's training and meet military qualification standards for using a 9 mm Beretta pistol.
Dubroff said the contractors have gone through 16 hours of training before they are qualified to guard the gates.