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Can't launch without 'em: MSG's broad mission ensures success

The shield of the 30th Mission Support Group, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The shield of the 30th Mission Support Group, Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When one thinks about putting together a launch, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Some people may think of Airman conducting countdown operations. Other people may think about preparing the rocket or missile.

There is more to a launch than that, though. Every unit on base, from the 30th Operations Group to the 30th Mission Support Group, has a role to play from a program's inception to lift-off.

In fact, all six squadrons within 30th MSG play a large role in making sure a payload or missile gets to where it's supposed to go.

The 30th Services Division, for example, conducts an essential support mission to make sure Airmen are ready to conduct the mission. This mission includes the food service facility, which provides vital food services to Vandenberg Airmen; the family members program flight, which provides Extended Duty Child Care, as parents are required to work after regular duty hours in support of launch operations; lodging services, which provides necessary billeting for key personnel involved in launch operations; and finally, all the community programs, which enhance quality of life, improving readiness, retention and recruitment of Airmen.

"In Services we maintain the No. 1 weapon system in our nation's arsenal: our people," said Michael Szymanski, 30th Services Division director. "Our focus on quality of life ensures the combat support and community service required to sustain and enhance the nation's warfighting capabilities. We park them, we fuel them, we supply the parts they need, we prepare them for contingency operations, we keep things working while they're gone, and we recover them when they return."

Taking care of people is also the modus operandi of the 30th Mission Support Squadron. The squadron manages "people programs" for Team V, from bringing in new employees to issuing Common Access Cards. It also is in the business of developing Airmen of all ranks through the First Term Airmen Center, Airmen Leadership School and NCO Enhancement Seminars; developing Airmen ensures they're ready to lead in the high-tech world of launch operations. The squadron also runs the manpower office, which helps conduct studies to determine support required for the Missile Defense Agency, as well as other launch activities.

"You'll often hear Colonel Tanous and other senior leaders say, 'People are our most important resource. We can't do the mission without them,'" said Lt. Col. Steven Carmical, the commander of the 30th MSS. "I agree completely and that's what MSS contributes to the launch mission. Whether it's something like education or training that can easily be linked to the launch mission or something less direct like reenlistments, hiring civilian employees or watching out for AF families, MSS is in the people business.
Launches can't occur without qualified people making them happen."

When it comes to protecting people and assets, the 30th Security Forces Squadron is there. The squadron sets up and secures all cordons, entry control points, sweep teams and the control center for the launch area; is a liaison for the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office to ensure the local off-base perimeter is searched and secured; provides aerial support for pre-launch to clear the non-accessible areas and post-launch aid to the fire department; and provides solutions to protect and secure critical classified and sensitive program information and flight hardware from program introduction to launch.

"The 30 SFS plays a critical role in the launch mission," said Lt. Col. Patrick Donley, the 30th SFS commander. "Regardless of technical, 'rocket science' know-how, guaranteed mechanical operation, definite, pinpoint accuracy, and ideal launch conditions, there is no certainty that a launch will take place unless Defenders provide robust security before and during the launch. The United States doesn't have a reliable space launch capability unless it can secure the payload, the launch vehicle, and the launch complex/facility."

Security Forces is in good company with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, which is essential to much of the safety precautions during launch operations. The readiness flight activates the emergency operations center, which is manned for necessary emergency actions; the environmental flight ensures environmental regulatory compliance for all launch activities; firefighters provide pre-launch processing support with hazardous standbys and post-launch support with firefighting and rescue operations; explosive ordnance disposal provides a three-man post-anomaly recovery team on standby; and the electric shop maintains a looped distro system to provide redundant source power to launch and range systems.

"CE's mission is to provide infrastructure and facilities to support all phases of launch and satellite operations, from HVAC for payload prep, to EOD and emergency management for launch as well as prime and backup power for launch and control," said Lt. Col. David Piech, the commander of the 30th CES. "CES technicians are a critical link to mission success."

Another unit with a critical mission is the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron. The fuels flight provides oversight on accountability, storage and issue of all missile fuel for Vandenberg and also oversees $40 million in current inventory; the air terminal loads and offloads aircraft carrying Boeing Ground Missile Defense Interceptors - each of which contain 43,000 pounds of explosives; and vehicle maintenance ensure serviceability of transport erectors used to erect Minuteman missiles and payload transporters used for placing warheads on missiles.

"The 30th LRS provides enabled launch by providing transportation, supply and fuels support," said Lt. Col. Christopher De Los Santos, the 30th LRS commander. "Nothing moves without logistics."

Airmen from the 30th Contracting Squadron also provide essential launch support. This squadron directs acquisition strategy and award of more than 100 contracts valued at more than $280 million supporting range and launch operations; executes and administers more than $22 billion in delegated contracts from National Reconnaissance Office, Missile Defense Agency, NASA and others; and conducts market research, solicits, negotiates, awards and administers service, commodity and construction contracts for almost every group on base, from the 14th Air Force to NASA. The squadron even awards contracts for environmental monitoring in support of launches for the 30th CES. The contractor monitors brown pelicans, the California red-legged frog, the Western snowy plover and harbor seals, allowing the civil engineer squadron to ensure launch operations can proceed with no environmental impact.

"30 CONS turns requirements into contracts," said David Smith, director of business operations for the 30th CONS. "Without the WROCI, ASSC, LOSC, and WSPEC contracts, the Western Range would be in no position to carry out the launch mission. Further, 30 CONS awards numerous service, commodity, and construction contracts that provide direct mission support to all agencies on Vandenberg. Without this contract support, VAFB would not possess the capability to defend the U.S. through launch, range, expeditionary and installation operations.

The 30th Space Wing's mission is "To defend the United States through exceptional launch, range, expeditionary and installation operations." While launch operations is only one of the four wing missions, it is one in which the mission support group, and every unit on base, has an important part. Whether it's making sure Airmen have after-hours child care or posting sentries at entry control points, the 30th MSG is one of the boosters fired up for mission success.

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a six-part series on how Team V supports the launch mission.)