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Cultural Resources preserves history and Air Force hardware

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Air Force officials announced Vandenberg as the Gen. Thomas D. White Environmental Award winner for the best Cultural Resources Management-Installation April 7.

Vandenberg received the award for the 30th Civil Engineer Cultural Resources flight's management of the installation's many cultural, archeological and historical resources for the past three years. Vandenberg's resources cover a wide range of history to include Native American rock art, Cold War memorabilia and an array of sites containing million-year-old animal fossils.

"Vandenberg has more than 1,600 different historic properties, many of which attest to the presence of Native Americans spanning 9,000 years," said Dr. James Carucci, a 30th CES archaeologist. "Plus we also have sites like (Space Launch Complex 5 and 10) that show Vandenberg's direct ties to events in history such as the Cold War."

Each cultural resource site at Vandenberg has a unique story to tell its viewers, but none are as well known to the local community as the rock art that can be found on Honda Ridge.

"There is really no way to tell what the art says, only speculation," said Beth McWaters-Bjorkman, a 30th CES archaeologist. "However, from the location and what we know about the Chumash we can surmise that it was once a venue for ceremonies."

The Honda Ridge site is open to anybody who has access to the base, an effort that took coordination with the Chumash Native Americans and base leadership; 9,000 years of history at arm's reach, literally.

"When I first saw the site, it had a chain-link fence that wasn't exactly aesthetically pleasing and prevented people from being able to get very close to the paintings," Dr. Carucci said. "The Chumash wanted the site to be more accessible, and after some work, we were able to offer the public the setting we have today."

Managing the property doesn't just involve preparing for tourists it also requires studying and documenting the sites.

"Every time we go to a site, we take numerous pictures to ensure the integrity of what is there," Dr. Carucci said. "It allows us to ensure nothing modern has been added. Each of these sites gives us an opportunity to look back hundreds or thousands of years and have a better understanding of the behavior of man."

In some cases the thousands of years turn into the millions. Vandenberg became famous to the paleontology world in 2008 after the discovery of an almost full imprint of a Miocene dolphin fossil. Miocene refers to a time period of around 5 to 23 million years ago.

"It is an amazing find," Mrs. McWaters-Bjorkman said. "Currently, there have been only two other similar fossils found in the world."

Since the resource team's excavation of the imprint, the Air Force has loaned it to the Los Angeles County National History Museum to be displayed and studied by world class scientists.

Vandenberg Air Force Base was established 50 years ago and is currently responsible for approximately 99,000 acres. Although the men and women serving and supporting the Air Force are the primary caretakers of the land, it is easy to forget that the Air Force wasn't here first. The cultural resource team does an award-winning job to help preserve, maintain, study and most of all manage the sites and historical assets on base. However, the five-person shop needs the support of the base to continue their work.

"This award was not won by just us," Dr. Carucci said. "It is truly a base effort. It takes the help of each individual doing his part and honoring the sites by obeying Vandenberg's zero collection policy. It also takes the work of different units coordinating with us with the many obstacles that each site throws our way. This was truly a Team Vandenberg award."

In June, the team will travel to the Pentagon for the award presentation. The AF-level award has put the team in the running for a DoD-level Environmental award, which will also be presented at the Pentagon.