Guardsmen set-up AFRL radar system

  • Published
  • By Derek Kaufman
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
After a final check for winds, Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson gathers his team of engineers together for a final safety briefing before they lift a 2,300 pound research radar receiver to the top of a newly-constructed tower offering a commanding view of Springfield, Ohio.

"It's a go," Sergeant Anderson says.

Anderson is a member of the 243rd Engineering Installation Squadron, an Air National Guard unit from South Portland, Maine. As team chief leading the installation of a bi-static radar system at Springfield Air National Guard base for the Air Force Research Laboratory, he's safety officer, problem solver, decision maker and cheerleader for a dozen Guardsmen charged with erecting a 100-foot steel tower and readying the experimental bi-static radar for operation.

Although he's one of the junior members of the team in rank, the "team chief" designation comes with position authority, as well as responsibility to get the job done safely, on-schedule and budget.

A crane operator begins the lift as the Airmen guide the radar into place so eight bolts can secure its frame to the tower.

The tower is new, and, with the exception of the foundational concrete footers poured by a contractor, was built from the ground up entirely by the Air National Guardsmen. The radar itself was relocated from a mountaintop in Rome, N.Y., as part of a BRAC-directed consolidation of sensors research to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Sergeant Anderson has served in the Air National Guard for the past five years. Formerly a U.S. Navy Reserve C-130 loadmaster stationed in Brunswick, Maine, Sergeant Anderson has visited 53 countries.

"We pushed right through some very rainy, stormy Ohio weather the last couple of weeks," Anderson said. The team readied and assembled modular tower components, pausing only when high winds, lightning, and tornado warnings prevented them from working outdoors.

"This project allowed us to hone our wartime skills: tower erection, climbing, cabling, fiber optic work, [use of] transit...It's very satisfying to see a project of this scope from start to finish," he added.

The engineering installation squadron members perform all aspects of the installation except the final hook-up to electrical power.

Among the Guardsman working for Sergeant Anderson on this project are Tech. Sgt. Brian McCarty and Staff Sgt. Shawn Buelow, both with the 220th EIS, based in Zanesville, Ohio. The duo are painstakingly tightening every bolt on the tower. There are several thousand. When properly torqued, an ink mark is placed on the nut and bolt to denote its completion. During subsequent inspections, the markings will serve to quickly identify any bolts that loosen.

"Look at where we are, what a view," exclaimed Sergeant Buelow, who lives in Cincinnati. "This is a diverse career field which is why I love it. Every job is different."

Master Sgt. Peter Krug, a cable antenna installer with the 243rd EIS, agrees. He has served in the Guard since 1992. He previously served both active duty and in the Navy Reserve as a P-3 Orion jet engine mechanic. More recently he spent six months deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq having returned in April after performing inspections of fiber optic and other engineering installation work on towers in southwest Asia.

"I enjoy working on the mixed [engineering installation] teams and the opportunity to travel to different locations," Sergeant Krug said.

Another member of the 243rd EIS team is Staff Sgt. Tony Velado, an airfield systems technician from Norridgewoc, Maine. He also previously served in the Navy as an aviation electrician and first met Sergeant Anderson when both were in the Navy C-130 community.

"We get as familiar as possible with every aspect of a project like this and call upon our personal experience to get it done," Sergeant Velado said.

During his temporary duty assignment installing the radar in Springfield, Velado learned a state-wide Brazilian Jiu-jitsu match was to be held in nearby Toledo. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is similar to wrestling but adds submissions like joint locks and choke holds. Sergeant Velado, who is Maine state champion as a middleweight in the sport, asked for and got permission to register and compete during the Toledo Open. Although he hadn't trained in more than a month, he drove to Toledo May 14, accompanied by Tech. Sgt. Mark Small. Wrestling his way to the final match later that day, Velado was down in points to a hometown favorite.

"Everybody in the gym thought he was going to win. The whole place was silent for a second when I submitted the hometown boy," Velado said.

Sergeant Velado is now holds the title of middleweight champion for both Ohio and Maine.

Guard teams from across the U.S. support AFRL research mission

Maj. Dave Rasmussen, with the 219th EIS, Tulsa, Okla. oversaw efforts de-installing AFRL's research radars in Rome, N.Y. and relocation to the new tower at Springfield, along with three other radar towers now located atop a hill adjacent to AFRL's Sensors Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

He said he was immensely proud of the engineering installation squadron teams including Air National Guard members from six states as well as active duty members from the Air Force's only active duty engineering installation unit, the 85th EIS, Keesler AFB, Miss and civil engineers with the 820th RED HORSE Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Separately, he said, no one unit had the capability by themselves to do the entire job. But bringing the units together under one management umbrella working together, they made it happen.

Major Rasmussen applauded the engineers who worked long days and overcame factors like difficult weather to keep on schedule and costs down.

"With [man] days and dollars at a premium, we can't afford to have a stoppage for any reason...They really focused on resources and the mission at hand," Major. Rasmussen said.

He added that using uniformed engineers was a huge boon for the American taxpayer, enabling the BRAC project to be completed at a small fraction of the $25 - $35 million estimates to tear down, ship and reinstall the radars, had the work been contracted out.

The radars will be used to support a variety of radio frequency sensor research projects for the Air Force.