ANG engineering team helps keep Western Range wired

  • Published
  • By Michael Peterson
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
Vandenberg Air Force Base is often referred to as the home of the Western Range, where space launch missions are conducted from California's central coast. Typically, these launches are supported by the men and women of the 30th Space Wing and associate units, contractors and mission partners who join together as Team Vandenberg. Every once in a while that team gains some new members, and since December 2014, a patchwork team of Air National Guard engineering installation specialists from all over the country have converged on the Western Range to support the 30th SW with a relocation project for the Launch and Test Range System.

"The project was initiated back in July 2012 by Air Force Space Command Commander, General Shelton," said 1st Lt. Andrew Beckman, Space and Missile Systems Center, program manager-range systems consolidation. "To support the eventual move of the Joint Space Operations Center, SMC needed to relocate some of the range assets here at Vandenberg, so we've spent the last three and a half years preparing for that transition."

Early in the preparation phase, SMC decided to utilize ANG EI specialists to assist with the project.

"It was early in 2013 when we looked into using the ANG," said Beckman. "SMC had previous experience with a team of EI specialists that supported a radar equipment move in Australia, and decided this could be another opportunity to save the Air Force money by utilizing the total force."

With the ANG part of the equation, the project planning turned towards execution and guard members started making their way to Vandenberg. Currently, there are 33 ANG members from various guard units around the country here working on the project, including representatives from the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maine, Georgia, Tennessee and others. The team is headed up by 130th Engineering Installation Squadron members 1st Lt. Vincente De Vita, the ANG OIC, and Master Sgt. Kyle Wood, the ANG NCOIC and Team Chief, who are based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

"This has been a very unique project," said De Vita. "We've had to adjust some of our processes to meet the range requirements, but I think everyone involved has been satisfied and surprised at how well our team has adapted."

In planning the preparation of range assets for the move, one of the biggest challenges was assembling and installing equipment cabinets and more than 10,000 cables at the new location.

"We had a large series of cabinets to build up, they were expected to take about a month to complete," said De Vita. "We had them finished in about a week and a half, so we've been able to complete each and every tasking on this project beyond prediction."

Their efficiency has dispelled any initial concerns about a learning curve for the ANG units and whether or not they could keep pace with the project. Smaller working teams of two ANG installers were partnered with local Launch Integrated Support Contract engineers and operators already familiar with the range systems and requirements. The guard team members were also able to rely on their dual work experience in the military and civilian sectors to quickly "learn the ropes" of this unique cabling and installation project.

"They've been able to exceed expectations on everything they've worked on," said Beckman. "Overall, we've had about a fifty percent schedule savings on the tasks in which the guard teams have been involved."

In addition to showcasing the abilities of its team members, large scale engineering installation projects like the one here at Vandenberg also provide ANG units a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and experience working within a larger, more diverse team.

"It's always great to meet the team for the first time and have a chance to bond," explains Staff Sgt. Christopher Cox, 217th EIS installer and Range Data Control Center team lead. "We try to get together for group events like barbecues, because the people we work with on this project might be the same ones we see again on future assignments. It's almost like a reunion for us when we go on overseas deployments."

Overall, the project should only last a few more months, with ANG members slowly phasing out as the work winds down. Even after the last of these temporary Team Vandenberg members leave, their work will pay dividends for future launch missions, giving those involved a chance to leave their mark on the Western Range.

"To Team Chief a project of this magnitude has been a tremendous opportunity," said Wood. "And to have individuals from around the nation in the EI community come together and work as a team is such a great honor to me!"