by Susan A. Romano
AFTAC Public Affairs
1/20/2016 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The
commander of the Air Force Technical Applications Center and her
command chief master sergeant visited the center's most far-reaching
detachment located in Australia's Northern Territory Dec. 14-18.
Col. Jennifer P. Sovada and Chief Master Sgt. Neil Jones made the
10,200-mile journey to get an up-close view of the seismic work being
conducted by AFTAC personnel at Detachment 421 in Alice Springs, a small
outpost in the center of the Australian outback. The duo also wanted
to see the steps the detachment has taken to improve the living
conditions for the assigned Airmen.
AFTAC, the Department of Defense's sole nuclear treaty monitoring
center, has nine detachments, six operating locations and more than 60
unmanned equipment locations worldwide and on every continent that
monitor and record natural and man-made seismic disturbances in support
of AFTAC's long range nuclear detection mission.
Det 421 is an integral part of the U.S. Atomic Energy Detection System
and has a seismic array that includes 22 detectors buried 30 meters
deep, covering an area of approximately 80 kilometers. The assigned
Airmen operate and maintain the seismic equipment to ensure it delivers
accurate geologic data to analysts here at the center.
Prior to the visit, AFTAC leadership encouraged the detachment
commander, Maj. Jesse Foster, to figure out ways to improve the quality
of life for his 5-person unit, using innovation as his driving force,
while also seeking out better methods to do business.
Foster knew one of the biggest challenges his Airmen consistently faced
was the accessibility to decent housing. So when he arrived at the det
in 2014, he began working with Air Force forces to secure contracted
housing for assigned detachment members.
"Over the course of various assignments, AFTAC Airmen have had to live
in housing areas that weren't always consistent with security standards
recommended by the U.S. Embassy in Canberra for federal employees living
overseas, especially in a remote area like Alice Springs," said Foster.
"So we engaged Col. Sovada and AFTAC's chief of International Affairs,
Robert McLaughlin, to hammer out an agreement with Air Force Materiel
Command to alleviate the burden newly-assigned Airmen and their families
face when they are searching for clean, safe and affordable housing
areas in the Alice Springs community. Through this agreement, AFMC will
now provide government-managed, fully-furnished housing for all
eligible detachment personnel. It's a huge victory for Det 421."
During their stay in Alice Springs, the visitors toured AFMC's
contracted living quarters and neighborhoods, and were impressed with
what they saw.
"Caring for our Air Force families is an extremely high priority for
me," said Jones. "Providing dependents adequate places to live allows
our Airmen to focus on the mission, and this partnership with AFMC does
just that. It's definitely a win-win in every aspect."
Sovada and Jones also sat down with two members of the Alice Springs
Police Force - Superintendent Peter Gordon (chief of police) and Sgt.
Terry Simpson, Operation and Field Intelligence officer, to learn more
about their operations.
The law enforcement officers had nothing but praise for the American Airmen living in their territory.
"Your troops and their families are an integral part of our community,"
said Gordon, "and they are very law-abiding citizens. Alice Springs is
like any small town - we have our share of petty issues, but it's a safe
community and a great little village to grow your family. Quite
frankly, with our population of about 26,000, it's one of the safest
places in all of Australia."
In addition to visiting detachment personnel and facilities, Sovada met
with the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, the Honorable John Berry, who's
served at the embassy in Canberra since September 2013. The meeting
gave the commander the opportunity to thank the ambassador for his
continued support of the work being accomplished at the detachment and
discuss the ongoing networking between the diplomat and the detachment.
"The work your Airmen are conducting is so important to our government,"
Berry told Sovada, "and it's literally being conducted in the middle of
nowhere, oftentimes in 100-degree conditions. Many people don't
realize that being assigned to the Northern Territory is extremely
austere and quite a hardship, and your folks are doing great work for
both the U.S. and our allies here in Australia. You should be quite
proud of them."
The Northern Territory is the country's least populated state, with an
estimated population of about 230,000, covering 549,000 miles. And
while the continent is geographically the same size as the continental
United States, Australia has about the same number of people as the
entire state of Texas.
The colonel also carved out time to visit the Australian War Memorial,
similar to Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. The site
combines a shrine, a world-class museum and an extensive archive that
is open to the public and commemorates the sacrifices of the nation's
fallen military members. Sovada and Foster were given the honor of
laying a wreath at the memorial's Pool of Reflection for the museum's
Last Post Ceremony to honor the 102,000 Australians who gave their lives
in service to their country over the past century.
"I am extremely impressed with the level of professionalism and scope of
work being undertaken at Det 421," said Sovada. "These skilled Airmen
are performing a vital international mission and have built solid,
long-lasting relationships with all our partners across Australia. As
Ambassador Berry aptly said, I am very proud of their accomplishments."