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Year in Review: GSUs grow, innovate

Charlene “Aunty Char” Kaawaloa and her husband Larry smile in front of a poster commemorating Charlene’s 50 years of service at Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, Hawaii, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Kaawaloa started working as a contractor at Kaena Point in 1966, when the station was relatively new.(Courtesy photo)

Charlene “Aunty Char” Kaawaloa and her husband Larry smile in front of a poster commemorating Charlene’s 50 years of service at Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, Hawaii, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Kaawaloa started working as a contractor at Kaena Point in 1966, when the station was relatively new.(Courtesy photo)

50th Network Operations Group and 50th Mission Support Group members rally together for a rough terrain survey of the water main that services 21st Space Operations Squadron, Detachment 3 at Ka'ena Point, Hawaii, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Col. W. Scott Angerman, 50 NOG commander, toured 50th Space Wing Geographically Separated Units in the Pacific to assess the condition of each detachment. (Courtesy photo)

50th Network Operations Group and 50th Mission Support Group members rally together for a rough terrain survey of the water main that services 21st Space Operations Squadron, Detachment 3 at Ka'ena Point, Hawaii, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. Col. W. Scott Angerman, 50 NOG commander, toured 50th Space Wing Geographically Separated Units in the Pacific to assess the condition of each detachment. (Courtesy photo)

An aircraft helps extinguish a portion of a fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Sept. 20, 2016.  Apart from the South Base fire, the North Base had fires burning in separate areas, one of which jeopardized the 21st Space Operations Squadron’s Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility, forcing personnel to evacuate. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps)

An aircraft helps extinguish a portion of a fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Sept. 20, 2016. Apart from the South Base fire, the North Base had fires burning in separate areas, one of which jeopardized the 21st Space Operations Squadron’s Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility, forcing personnel to evacuate. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shane Phipps)

Part of the 21st Space Operations Squadron’s Eastern Vehicle Checkout Facility stands on a clear day at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The EVCF faced much more turbulent weather when Hurricane Matthew careened up the Florida coastline early this October. The EVCF is part of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, a geographically separated unit for Schriever.  (Courtesy Photo)

Part of the 21st Space Operations Squadron’s Eastern Vehicle Checkout Facility stands on a clear day at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The EVCF faced much more turbulent weather when Hurricane Matthew careened up the Florida coastline early this October. The EVCF is part of the 23rd Space Operations Squadron, a geographically separated unit for Schriever. (Courtesy Photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

The 50th Space Wing’s Geographically Separated Units overcame challenges, began vital mission equipment upgrades and celebrated decades of service this past year.

21st Space Operations Squadron personnel faced evacuation and relocation after wildfires threatened the squadron’s Ellison Onizuka Satellite Operations Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in late September.

Fortunately, the wildfires did not impact the overall mission for the 21 SOPS personnel, which is essential for the Air Force Satellite Control Network. The squadron supports 175 satellites, updating AFSCN communication resources and providing information to numerous command centers.

Members from both 21 SOPS and its host 30th Space Wing are working on improving training for future fires, said Chris Babauta, 21 SOPS facility program manager.

“We’ve gone through exercises, adding additional procedures to our emergency management binders,” he said. “Through our work with the 30th Space Wing we are developing a good emergency management process, including new evacuation and response procedures.”

On the other side of the country, contractors stationed at the 23rd Space Operations Squadron’s Eastern Vehicle Checkout Facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, faced a storm that brought turbulent weather conditions along the east coast. Hurricane Matthew, which reached its peak intensity Sept. 30 - Oct. 1 as a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds, had already caused widespread devastation in the eastern Caribbean before turning towards Florida.

Thanks to advanced notice, facility personnel were well-prepared to deal with the threat.

“We had a checklist we followed, including making sure everything outside is picked up and shutting down and covering equipment with plastic,” said James Cobb, EVCF lead contractor.

These procedures minimalized damages, and apart from a few broken latches to an antenna hatch, the facility remained unscathed, with operations resuming shortly after the storm passed, said Cobb.

After two years of planning, 21 SOPS broke ground for the Modernized Earth Terminal project in February. The new system will replace two 38-foot antennas, pedestals and associated equipment with two state-of-the-art antennas and communications equipment.

50 SW leaders strengthened relations with GSU team members by conducting site visits throughout the year.

On Nov. 16, 50th Network Operations Group and 50th Mission Support Group leaders rallied together for a survey of the support facilities at 21 SOPS, Detachments 2 and 3 at Ka'ena Point, Hawaii. The group leaders discussed project and sustainment support with host base leaders during the visits.

During October, 23 SOPS members celebrated the reopening of the Joe English Pond at New Boston Air Force Station, New Hampshire.

The undertaking resulted in a safe and ordinance-free pond ready to reclaim its role as a recreational activity hub for fishing, swimming and paddle boat use.

“The full opening of Joe English Pond has generated considerable excitement here at New Boston,” said Lt. Col. Marty Easter, 23rd Space Operations Squadron commander. “The Joe English Pond is a recreation opportunity for Airmen not only from New Boston, but also those from Hanscom, Pease, Cape Cod and Department of Defense identification cardholders visiting the northeast.”

Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station members celebrated Charlene “Aunty Char” Kaawaloa’s 50 years of exceptional service Dec. 7.

During her five decades as a contractor at the station, Kaawaloa forged an extended family at her workplace among her fellow coworkers both military and civilian-earning her the nickname “Aunty Char.”

Looking back, Kaawaloa agrees even if her younger self knew her first day working at Kaena Point she would be there for another 18,262, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“We are the number one GSU in the network. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had here,” said Kaawaloa. “Its really been a fun, enjoyable and supportive experience.”

While she prepares to take more time to spend with her own family, Kaawaloa won’t forget her other Ohana. 

“I’ve made lifelong friends, and am part of a second family. I’ve learned so much,” said Kaawaloa. “If I had to describe my time here in one word, it would be exhilarating.”

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