Alaska Air Guard members work in Australia

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 23:00
Two Eagle River residents among those helping U.S. Space Command
Staff Sgt. Kelli Naramore, operations manager for the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, uses an oxyacetylene torch to cut a hole in a girder here May 6. Thirty-four Alaska Air Guard members, most from the 176th CES, deployed for two weeks to this tiny outpost at the far western tip of Australia to help build a space radar facility to be jointly operated by Australia and the United States.

H.E. HOLT NAVAL COMMUNICATION STATION, Australia – Thirty-four men and women of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, including two Eagle River residents, are working on a space radar installation at this remote base on the far western tip of Australia.

The Guard members are helping prepare the facility to receive and install more than 75 tons of space-surveillance radar equipment being relocated to Holt from the Caribbean Island of Antigua. This relocation will allow the U.S. Air Force’s Space Command to better track space debris and satellites in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Alaska Air Guardsmen, most drawn from the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, are here as part of a 15-day Deployment for Training, or DFT. These types of short deployments allow the airmen to train in a broad range of skills while performing real-world work.

“Bringing the team together for these DFTs is critical to the proficiency of our civil engineers,” said Eagle River resident Chris Mercer, the squadron’s infrastructure flight chief. “This level of training just can’t be accomplished at home. This deployment in particular has created an ideal situation: We’ve been able to overlap a wide variety of skill sets to focus on a project with global impact.”

“Being in the Air Guard, we usually only see each other once a month, so going on these short deployments is a great way to learn to work together as a team and cross train into some skills we don’t normally use,” agreed Staff Sgt. Kelli Naramore. “For example, I get to actively do my job as an operations manager but also get a chance to learn about the other civil engineering career fields as well.”

Initial estimates placed the total costs of the operation at $70 million. By replacing contractors with rotating teams of Air Guard members, Space Command expects to save $20 to $30 million from that figure.

The first rotation of Air Guard members at Holt took place in August 2013. The Alaska contingent comprises the sixth such group to work on-site. The radar is expected to come on line in 2016.

The facility will be the first low-Earth-orbit space surveillance network sensor in the Southern Hemisphere. Once completed it will operate under the auspices of Space Command under a joint agreement with the Australian Department of Defense. The radar will be able to accurately track up to 200 objects a day, from satellites and space launches in Asia to “space junk” dropped by astronauts during space walks.

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