Preserving past to conserve future

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kyla Gifford
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

An understanding of Air Force history can explain many of its current beliefs and actions, and enables leaders to make more informative decisions in the future.

With direct ties to Cold War history and one of its former Space Launch Complexes being deemed a National Historic Landmark, Vandenberg is particularly invested in preserving its storied history.   

“This base specifically has incredible history and we’re doing new stuff all the time,” said Shawn Riem, 30th Space Wing historian. “I want to make sure that I get as much information as possible collected, so that we have a complete and accurate record for the future.”

In order to accurately safeguard Vandenberg’s annals of history, Riem, and others, have worked for nearly a year establishing an organized system dedicated to protecting the base’s history.

“This process is something that I came up with here, because of the amount of history we are working with,” said Riem. “I pulled ideas from other places and made it work for here. It took about a year, including the inventory itself but also purging it of all the excess, irrelevant material. It has to apply to the 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg, our mission, the Major Command, or the Air Force. It has to have a direct tie to us, if not -- there is another home for it that is more appropriate.”

Building off of a previously established filing system, Riem sought to create a streamlined and modernized structure – which is user-friendly.

“I’m still in the process of digitizing photos and making it more of a modern archive,” said Riem. “It was a little daunting. I think what we created is something that anyone can come in and use easily. It’s based on a national archival system, but we also have a map that organizes item locations. If I have somebody who is cleared to work in here, or someone visiting, they will be able to navigate the archives themselves.”

While archiving a plethora of base information, Riem had the opportunity to preserve forgotten film, which was in danger of perishing forever.

“The other thing we did was gather old film we had stored here, over one thousand pieces of film,” said Riem. “This environment is not conducive to storage and the film was starting to degrade. So I sent the film to our Air Force history repository at Maxwell Air Force Base because they have a proper storing facility for film. They are going to digitize the film and send it back to me so I will not lose any important historical material. This also saves the Air Force money because we don’t have to pay to get it all digitized, we don’t have to worry about it being damaged and lost forever.”

With Vandenberg being the nation’s only western spaceport, archiving base information will always be paramount to mission success.

“The need to archive events is critical because every event is unique,” said Larry Hill, retired 30th SW Public Affairs community engagement section chief. “Nearly all of Vandenberg’s missions are crucial to national security, this is unique amongst the two launch wings. Everything the wing does impacts the warfighter. Vandenberg is also significant because so much of what we do only happens here. The full story, including technical reach back, cannot be told anywhere else.”

Riem encourages all units to send her any mission documentation. This will allow her to assimilate pertinent information into her archives, as opposed to it being lost to the sands of time.

“What’s important is everything from start to finish, I have to have the trail of breadcrumbs to fill the in between,” said Riem. “This helps me get the information that I need, but also preserves all of that documentation. Everybody has a file plan that ends in destruction, except for me. So giving me that documentation ensures that it’s preserved, and when folks are looking back in 20 years to see how certain issues were handled, the historian will be able to give a compilation of information showing what happened and why. I want to empower future leaders to have all the tools at the ready.”