START team visits Vandenberg
By Senior Airman Kyla Gifford, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 11, 2016
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Air Force Base was recently visited by Russian inspectors who completed an on-site verification in compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty requirements.
This treaty replaced the original START, which was in place from 1994 to 2009, and is now called the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The new treaty started in February 2011 and has a 10-year life.
"It is a bi-lateral treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States," said Edward Coker, 30th Space Wing START compliance officer. "Each nation gets 18 inspection quotas per treaty year - the U.S. sends teams to Russia and Russia sends teams over here."
There are two points of entry in the United States, San Francisco or Washington D.C. -- the Russians fly a commercial airline into one of those ports.
"The Defense Threat Reduction Agency escorts pick up the Russian team and escorts them to Travis Air Force Base," said Coker. "The DTRA escorts have 24 hours to bring them to the site they want to inspect, and once they arrive, the inspection is only allowed to last 24 hours."
Coker and his partner, Randy Vigil, are the only two permanent members of the START team here on VAFB. Their responsibilities as compliance officers is to make sure that the 30th Space Wing is organized and ready to escort the Russians during the inspections. For a successful visit, this process involves many individuals across VAFB.
"The 30th Logistic Readiness Squadron supplies us with transportation during their visit, the 30th Force Support Squadron prepares their meals over at Breakers Dining Facility and the 30th Security Forces Squadron helps us out with security," said Coker. "There are a lot of people behind the scenes that are not a full-time part of the team, but provide the logistic support. So it takes the whole base providing support to actually pull it off."
During the actual inspection three augmentees assist in escorting the Russian team for the duration of their visit.
"It's great being an escort, and very different than my regular job," said Airman Lorenzo Baquilod, 30th Force Support Squadron installation personnel readiness journeyman. "This was my third time being an escort and we had to work on the weekend, making sure that everything was prepared and that the inspection went smoothly. It makes me appreciate and understand what we do, and helps me see the bigger picture."
This opportunity also provided Airmen with leadership skills and experience.
"This was my first time being a seasoned escort," said Baquilod. "It was a mentoring opportunity for me. I wanted to teach the newer escorts all I knew about it so if I had to leave they would be able to run the show. They did great and the inspection went fast and smoothly!"
For Coker, it is a continual job of making sure every asset on Vandenberg is accounted for.
"Every six months each country exchanges a database that says how many bombers, missiles, and nuclear submarines we have and where they are," said Coker. "So when they come here they already know what we have here on base, and are verifying that what we have is what they actually see. There are continual messages that get transmitted back and forth to let each other know the status of our nuclear forces."
Vandenberg's long-standing partnership with the Russian Federation remains unparalleled.
"There are very strict rules and it's all very professional," said Coker. "The treaty is working well, and our working relations with the Russians are cordial."