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Vandenberg combats recent spate of vandalism

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Scene: A young teen walks down a dark street in a quiet neighborhood in the dead of night. Looking over both shoulders, the teen approaches a stretch of fence and pulls a paper bag from a deep jacket pocket. In the paper bag is a can of spray paint. The teen weighs the can in his hand, again looking over his shoulder. As the orange glow of a streetlight illuminates his face, we see a look of doubt. 

"Should I do this or not?" 

In recent weeks, there have been a slew of juvenile misconduct cases at Vandenberg. These incidents have ranged from theft to violations of base curfew, which is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 

"Dependents in that age range don't always make the right decisions," said Chief Master Sgt. Edward Smith, chief enlisted manager of the 30th Mission Support Group. "They don't understand the consequences; they just think they're fooling around." 

Those consequences can be high, however. According to 30th Space Wing Instruction 51-101, Disposition of Juvenile Misconduct Cases, dependent minors will have to face a Juvenile Assistance Council if charged with misconduct. The JAC will then recommend an appropriate response to the misconduct, based on evidence and testimony. Responses could include a written reprimand for both the juvenile and their sponsor, restricted access to base functions, or being completely barred from the base. 

These consequences adversely affect the dependent's entire family. For example, if a dependent is barred from base and the family lives in base housing, then the family must move off base within 30 days, according to Government Military Housing. The move, however, is paid for by the sponsor, not the government or GMH. 

But the effects don't stop there. If someone paints graffiti on a fence or home in base housing, the money to paint over or remove the graffiti comes out of base improvement funds. 

"Right now there's a huge housing renovations project," Chief Smith said. "If GMH is spending money on paint to fix vandalism problems, that money comes out of the budget and there's less money for these improvements." 

Parents and children who live on base can make sure these improvements do happen. There are plenty of programs offered on base by the Vandenberg Youth Center to keep everyone busy. 

"The youth center is a positive place for kids to be--we offer a safe area for youth to express themselves in a judge-free environment," said Tawny Toscano, a youth center representative. "Our goal is to develop the youth here into positive leaders and to prepare them to be successful young adults." 

The youth center staff does this through multiple programs, including: 

Torch and Keystone Club: This community-service focused club teaches leadership and career development; Torch Club is for pre-teens and Keystone Club is for teens. 

Power Hour: This all-ages daily homework program provides tutoring for students, as well as encourages members to become self-directed learners. 

FitFactor: Another all-ages program, FitFactor offers daily fitness activities including skating and flag football. 

"Our staff is dedicated to the mission and supporting our youth," Ms. Toscano said. "We are here to mentor and provide stability for our youth with deployed parents, and youth with parents supporting the mission." 

While the youth center can help deter teens from committing crimes on base, base residents must step in as well. Leadership with the 30th Security Forces Squadron is asking for all personnel to remain vigilant in their respective neighborhoods. If anyone sees a crime being committed, they should treat it like it is their own property that is getting damaged. People can call the Crime Stopper hotline at (805) 606-2677 or the security forces desk sergeant at (805) 606-3911 or 3437. 

Stopping these illegal activities is also the responsibility of dependents' sponsors. Parents and guardians must be an active part of their children's lives. 

"First of all, safety is an important reason to keep track of your kids," Chief Smith said. "If you don't know where they are, they could be in trouble or hurt. 

"Also, we are held to and live with higher standards in the U.S. Air Force - this goes for both military members and dependents," he added. "This goes back to the quality of life here for everyone." 

Ensuring a safe, quality living environment on base is everyone's responsibility. It all starts with making the decision to do what is right. 

Scene: The young teen again weighs the spray paint can in his hand, looking up and down the street. He looks at the can, seeming heavier and heavier in his hand, and shakes his head. A "thunk" echoes down the street as the teen tosses the spray paint in a trash can. Hands in his pockets, he steps up his pace to get home, confident he made the right decision. 

(Editor's note: For more information on the Vandenberg Youth Center, call (805) 606-2152. Youth center opens at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and closes at 6 p.m. for pre-teens and at 7 p.m. for teens. On Friday and Saturday, it is open at 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. for pre-teens and 10 p.m. for teens. On holidays and early school dismissal days, it opens at 12:30 p.m.)