FORT GREELY, Alaska - Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges, acting adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, and Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion, Alaska Army National Guard, celebrated 10 years of missile defense operations during a ceremony held here Tuesday.
Ten years ago on Sept. 30, President George W. Bush declared that the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System was operational, and for the first time, the United States had the capability to detect, intercept and defeat a long-range ballistic missile threatening the homeland.
During the ceremony, Treadwell read a letter from Gov. Sean Parnell that thanked the Soldiers and discussed some of the key milestones that made ballistic missile defense a reality. Treadwell also expressed his gratitude and praise.
“I’d like to say thank you; thank you for defending our nation,” Treadwell said. “The state of Alaska supports you, the nation supports you. It took the dedication of the state of Alaska and the National Guard working together to make this happen, but it’s only real because of what you do, and that’s incredibly important. So when you mark this anniversary, please be proud and do good work and know the nation depends on what you do every day.”
Bridges credited Guard members for the success of the missile defense mission.
“Thank you to you who serve in uniform and your family members who support you. You are the most important reason why this mission is successful, and our nation can rest easy at night because of you,” Bridges said. “Thank you for being on the frontline of this mission, well done.”
The GMD system is designed to intercept and destroy an incoming ballistic missile in its midcourse while still outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The system is comprised of a sea-, land- and space-based sensors and ground-based interceptors located at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
National Guard Soldiers manning fire-control centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week can detect a launch anywhere in the world and determine if that launch is a threat to the United States. If deemed a threat, Soldiers can launch ground-based interceptors to intercept and destroy the threat long before it reaches the United States.
A decade and a half ago this capability was only an idea. It has its roots in a speech by President Ronald Reagan in a speech he gave to the American people March 23, 1983: “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest on the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack; that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”
Both President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton had their contributions. Clinton signed the Missile Defense Act of 1999 that laid the groundwork to begin developing the GMD system and designating Fort Greely as its test bed. Then in 2002, George W. Bush mandated that the system would be operational by 2004.
The system has been developed spirally, deployed as soon as it was initially capable. While Soldiers manned the system, engineers conducted and continue to conduct research and development to continually improve and develop the system. Without using the spiral development model, it could have taken several decades before the capability could be fielded. As new sensors are added to the architecture, the Soldiers change their tactics to accommodate the new capabilities.
All the pieces came together very quickly. The missile defense complex ground breaking was in June 2002. In early 2004, the National Guard began hiring and training Soldiers from all over the nation to conduct this mission. The first interceptor was emplaced in July 2004, and the system was operational in September 2004.
The base was not able to house the newly-assigned Soldiers’ families. They had to be housed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage 300 miles away. The Soldiers worked for two weeks at a time, then returned to their families during their off time. This schedule was in place for nearly one year until base housing was ready for their families.
The Soldiers whoguarded the missile defense complex started with only soft-shell Humvees and a small trailer as their operations center. The equipment wasn’t designed for an arctic environment. When the interior Alaska winters hit 40-60 degrees below zero, the Soldiers had to take turns keeping warm in a sleeping bag.
Today, the security forces have the necessary equipment and vehicles to conduct operations in all weather conditions and the facilities to conduct administration and training.
The early days were a challenge for families. Fort Greely is a remote duty station 100 miles from a city with shopping. The post’s amenities were small. The commissary was only the size of a convenience store. The gym was operational but still limited, and there wasn’t a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility. Additionally, the majority of the families came from outside Alaska and few had any idea what an interior Alaska winter would be like.
Today, the commissary is much larger and offers most of what a family would need. The MWR is in place with recreation equipment to rent and a variety of trips available. There is now a Community Activity Center with family activities and a bowling alley.
Even the community had a few growing pains. This mission was bringing a few hundred Soldiers, civilians and their families to an area that only had a population of approximately 850 people. In order to handle the influx of students, Fort Greely opened one of the closed school buildings.
In a partnership between Fort Greely and Delta Junction, the school is operated by the Delta School District.
Today, 10 years later, Fort Greely has 30 interceptors with another 14 planned in the near future. The mission continues to be a vital part of our nation’s strategic defense. The post is a small but thriving community that continues to provide for the Soldiers who serve that key mission.