Team V Airmen support JTF-Burnt Frost

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
In what was deemed a Herculean effort by military leaders, 36 Airmen from Team Vandenberg joined government agencies from across the U.S. in support of Joint Task Force-Burnt Frost. 

Formed in less than six days, the JTF team, pre-staged at McGuire AFB, N.J., was ready to provide rapid response if needed to minimize the risk of the effects of the satellite and falling debris and hazardous fuel. 

Representatives from four squadrons here were hand picked for the mission, along with those from 14 other government agencies, based on their expertise, said Army Brig. Gen. Jeff Horne, the JTF commander. The 130-person team was put together as the result of prudent planning in response to an unusual situation because the United States is committed to safe, responsible space operations, he said. 

"This task force is a team of highly-trained, highly-experienced professionals, and it was our honor to answer the nation's call as the rapid response force to handle this situation if/when we were needed," General Horne said. 

The professionals from Vandenberg included Tech. Sgt. Andrew Colsch, an air transportation specialist with the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron here. He used his extensive knowledge of airlift preparations to get Team V Airmen to McGuire on short-notice. 

"My biggest challenge was preparing equipment for airlift that was never designed to put on an aircraft," Sergeant Colsch said. "Vehicles like Humvees are designed for air transport - but this equipment was not." 

In order to get the specialized equipment onboard the C-5 Galaxy, he had to design a wooden approach shoring so the base of the vehicle would clear the loading ramp. In less than two hours, the 30th LRS Traffic Management Office, led by Master Sgt. Joe Pyle, had the shoring built and in use. 

While Sergeant Colsch was sent as a one-man team, the 30th Civil Engineering Squadron's fire department deployed 19 team members. They were the largest contingent out of Vandenberg, and with good reason. 

"There was more than 1000 pounds of hydrazine fuel on the satellite," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Camacho, the Fire Station 1 captain with the 30th CES. "That was the hazard we were preparing to mitigate." 

Although the shoot-down mission was a success, said Sergeant Camacho, the U.S. government took proactive measures to respond for recovery and consequence management operations. 

Part of those proactive measures also included calling in members of the 30th Security Forces Squadron. With nine security forces Airmen deployed to the task force, including Lt. Col. Patrick Donley, the 30th SFS commander, they were ready to do their part. 

"We were brought here to work in a security role for the operation," said Airman 1st Class Kyle Zuercher, a security forces Airman. "If there was a land-based reentry, we would be there to set up a cordon around the perimeter to control entry to the hazardous area." 

Security forces members were in place to protect the perimeter, but Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Bell and her team were there to monitor and assess health risks associated with hydrazine fuel if there was an actual hazard. 

"We would look at what exposure people had and see if parts of the satellite were contaminated," said Sergeant Bell, who is with the 30th Medical Operations Squadron's bioenvironmental element here. 

While they did not have to put their expertise to use, she said her team was able to train with and learn from the other agencies. 

"We did a lot of joint training and it was interesting to talk about and see what they do," Sergeant Bell said. "We were all learning from each other." 

Working and training in such a large joint environment was an eye-opening experience, said Senior Airman Patrick McKee. 

"Most times you only get to see the broad layout of the different specialties," said Airman McKee, who works with the 30th CES readiness/emergency management flight. "But here I got to see from each agency's point of view. Everyone was working together, merging to do the job better." 

With their mission complete, the Team V Airmen were able to look back and see all they had done. 

"Everyone came together and got everything done so quickly," Sergeant Bell said. "It was really amazing." 

The Joint Functional Component Command for Space Joint Space Operations Center here is tracking less than 3,000 pieces of debris, all smaller than a football. The vast majority of debris has already reentered or will shortly reenter the Earth's atmosphere in the coming days and weeks. To date, there have been no reports of debris landing on Earth and it is unlikely any will remain intact to impact the ground.