Thursday, October 23, 2014

Radar site techs: First line of defense 24/7, 365

by Capt Anastasia Wasem
11th Air Force Public Affairs

10/23/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaksa -- At the narrowest part of the Bering Strait, where the North American and Asian land masses meet, in a virtually uninhabited area, sits a vital yet relatively unknown asset in the first line of homeland defense for the United States and Canada; the Tin City Long Range Radar Site.

The Tin City LRRS, which houses a handful of permanent workers, along with 14 additional radar sites across the rugged terrain of Alaska, scan the airspace above 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year, searching for potential threats. Together with the men and women of the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, this team makes up the unsung heroes that protect our nation's northern and western borders.

"It really is a team effort," said Lt. Gen. Russ Handy, 11th Air Force commander, during a recent site visit to Tin City LRRS. "The majority of the work is done by great civilians that have been an important part of our national defense for a long time yet many don't know about."

One of those civilians, working for the U.S. Air Force contracted company ARCTEC, is Vance Spaulding, Tin City LRRS station chief and heavy equipment mechanic. Spaulding ensures that the radar site stays up and running and is in charge of the safety and security of the site as well as all logistics. He has worked at these remote radar sites for 13 years, consistently working a routine of two months at the site and one month at home.

"The hardest part is being away from them," said Spaulding about his 22-year-old daughter and two-year-old granddaughter. "The biggest challenges are just being away from family, making decisions while away and dealing with things that come up."

Life is isolated for the men and women who work at these sites. Tin City LRRS, which sits at the top of a high coastal peak with a shear drop to the ocean below, is only accessible by boat or plane.

"It's close knit; you're very isolated and you're here with people that are like a family," said Jerry Pyle, station technician, who has been married for 16 years and has three children. "We get together and have movie nights and go hiking, hunting, fishing and activities like that."

The winters have the potential to be dangerous though in such an isolated and cold area, according to Spaulding.

"The winter activities are pretty much curtailed because the weather is so bad. It's dangerously bad," said Spaulding. "I could go out on my snow machine and if the wind picks up to 100 miles per hour I'm laying down somewhere. Winds have been clocked at 180 miles per hour here."

The 15 radar sites across Alaska, plus many deactivated sites, have undergone numerous changes since they were built in the 1950's. During the 1970's, each site had about 135 people assigned to them, most of which were U.S. Air Force personnel. But with technological advancements, that number has steadily been able to decrease to the handful of technicians seen at most sites today.

And on a clear day from the top of the Tin City LRRS, one not only sees miles of Alaskan wilderness and wildlife but also, according to Spaulding, clear across the Bering Strait as well.

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