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.