By Senior Airman Tiffany DeNault, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs / Published April 07, 2015
The 12th SWS, one of the 21st Space Wing’s geographically separated units, operates the Upgraded Early Warning Radar 24/7. The radar is maintained by U.S. and Canadian airmen, and is assisted by a U.S., Danish and Greenlandic contractor force. While the unit is small, the strategic importance and criticality of its mission is not.
As part of the Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System, 12th SWS provides the U.S. National Command Authority with early warning of all intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles penetrating its coverage area and their probable impact points. The North American Air Defense (Command) evaluates the integrated sensor information and notifies the national leadership in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., whether or not North America is under attack.
“Time is critical in the execution of our missile warning mission,” said Lt. Col. Jason Resley, the 12th SWS commander. “Our crews have under a minute to assess and determine whether they have a valid or anomalous site report and forward our data to the missile warning center.”
The 12th SWS has a secondary mission of providing space surveillance data on man-made objects in space to the Joint Space Operations Center (JSOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The 12th SWS set a record last year with more than 3 million space objects tracked to help the JSOC maintain space situational awareness. The space surveillance mission includes tracking routine space objects, maneuvering satellites, re-entry assessments and space launches.
“My experience here at 12th SWS and Thule has been fast paced; we have the same responsibilities as all of the other space warning squadrons with about half of the manning,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Rogers, a 12th SWS crew chief. “Also we have tracked more objects this past year, than in 12th SWS’s 50-plus year history.”
The 12th SWS also battles the harsh arctic environment. When strong winds or an arctic storm blows through, the members have to sometimes stay in their radar complex for their safety. The complex provides many resources for its members, including a dining facility, fitness center, sleeping quarters and even a small game area. The complex also has its own fire department and medical room in case of emergencies.
“Our job here in the Arctic is unique mostly because of the climate. Very few bases have to deal with the extreme Arctic cold and the seasons of complete darkness and total light,” Rogers said. “You do not realize just how much sunlight affects people’s moods until you take it away for four months.”
Even with the busy schedules and Mother Nature at her coldest, everyone comes away from their one year remote tour at Thule AB with fond memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
“Thule has been an amazing assignment. The unique environment with awe inspiring landscapes, the selfless dedication of Thule’s Airmen and their constant focus on mission accomplishment, and the wingman culture both on and off duty, is what I will remember the most,” Resley said. “With the support of our friends and families thousands of miles away, we execute the mission to ensure the safety and security of our nation and its allies.”
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