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TDDEC celebrates 50 years of bringing training to life

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Lance Hainsworth, an electronics technician with the Training Device Development and Engineering Center here, works on a ballistic actuator model Monday. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Lance Hainsworth, an electronics technician with the Training Device Development and Engineering Center here, works on a ballistic actuator model Monday. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As Vandenberg celebrates its 50th anniversary, one unit here is quietly and humbly doing the same. 

The Training Device Design and Engineering Center was assigned its first building on Cooke AFB on July 1, 1957, when it was called the Training Aids Shop; however, it didn't begin building training devices until May 1, 1958, when the 4315th Student Squadron activated. 

Since that day, this shop has built training materials for the Air Force's missile program, adding the space program to its mission in 1993. 

"We were back and forth between the 4315th (Student Squadron) and 1st Strategic Aerospace Division several times until (Strategic Air Command) went away in 1993," said Dell Barritt, the 30th Operations Support Squadron's TDDEC director. "We sort of follow the history of 1st STRAD." 

That history is Vandenberg's history. The TDDEC is tied into all the major events on base, including the first missile launch of a Thor intermediate range missile in December 1958. 

"As soon as they started launching, they were teaching," Mr. Barritt said. "In order to teach they needed training devices to teach the concepts, both maintenance and operational concepts." 

Those devices came from the highly trained personnel who worked for the TDDEC. These Airmen and civilians were and still are specialists in carpentry, machining, electronics, plastics and more. They worked out of their one-story, World War II-era building, creating sophisticated pieces of training equipment for the time. 

While all of the devices they designed were necessary to furthering the missile launch and maintenance mission, Mr. Barritt said their most important projects were those that saved lives. For example, the articulating arm of the Minuteman suspension system can be dangerous under certain circumstances; the TDDEC designed training devices for this component to combat injury or loss of life. 

"We made trainers for the classrooms where they can teach that operation, the dos and don'ts of it, basically to save lives," Mr. Barritt said. "Those devices in particular are that much more important (than some other devices) because they're about preventing injuries and saving lives." 

They continued to make the lives of missileers easier and safer for decades. Then in 1993, SAC was inactivated and replaced by Air Combat Command. Around the same time the Training Aids Shop changed its name to the Missile Training Fabrication Branch. Soon, the MTFB became the Missile Training Support Fabrication Branch under ACC. Right after that, the MTFSB was assigned to AETC. Finally, the TDDEC was assigned to Air Force Space Command. 

"There were a lot of changes military wise ... we were trying to figure out who we fell under," said Frank Gomez, an exhibit maker with the TDDEC. 

As name and command changes settled down, the TDDEC moved from building 6436 to building 8190, its current location. About five years later, Mr. Barritt took over as director and began updating all the equipment, as well as the facility. 

"All of our equipment now is relatively new to state-of-the-art," Mr. Barritt said. "We have probably got one of the most modern fabrication facilities in the Air Force that I know of." 

In the late 1990s, the TDDEC faced yet another challenge in the A-76 cost comparison study. The government was looking at contracting the work the TDDEC accomplished. Fortunately for them and tax payers, they won the comparison. It meant, however, that they had to cut back on manpower. Now, every person who works in the TDDEC is jack-of-all-trades, able to do computer aided drafting, machining, woodworking, painting and more. 

"It challenges you every day," Mr. Gomez said. "You're not just working in the carpenter shop. You can actually work in the machine shop to the welding shop to the carpenter shop to the plastics, engraving, 3-D modeling ... all in the same project, all in one day." 

Although there have been many changes over the half-century life of the TDDEC, their mission has been and will always be to support the instruction of the United States' premier space and missile force. 

"Every missileer and every maintainer trained on this base has seen or touched the devices that we've built," Mr. Barritt said. "I don't know how many people that is, but it's got to be a lot."