McCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. – The Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), McChord Air Force Base, will receive the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award for having “distinguished itself by exceptionally meritorious service” from Nov. 1, 2005 to May 31, 2007. The award will be presented May 4 to Sector Commander Col. Paul D. Gruver by Brig. Gen. Gary Magonigle, Commander, Washington Air National Guard.
This honor recognizes the unit’s exceptional service in several different arenas, including its core mission of “Guarding America’s Skies.” That job alone requires constant vigilance as WADS protects 72 percent of the continental United States – west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
“The Western Air Defense Sector has an exemplary history of outstanding service,” Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, the Washington National Guard’s Adjutant General, noted in an endorsement of the Sector’s nomination for the award. “Innovative members and visionary leaders have combined to form a highly effective team for the 24/7 mission,” he wrote.
He praised the unit’s ability to “set the standard” for real-world air defense missions as well as its close relationships with agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Secret Service. Also, “their proven close relationships north of the border demonstrate they will be invaluable in assisting our Canadian partners with the preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia,” he added.
Day-to-day tasks put Sector operators on watch for real-world air defense challenges. WADS members detect and identify more than 100,000 aircraft every day and have investigated more than 600 North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks of interest. These air defense missions include the engagement of fighter jet and helicopter intercepts for homeland defense, along with support to presidential travels in the Sector’s area of responsibility.
A new federal mission – Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) – put the Sector in some unique situations to demonstrate its capabilities. As an example, the Sector used its people and assets during the California wildfires of October and November 2007. The unit employed its national network of communications systems to enable a closer watch of the fires’ progress and, in one case, to evacuate a family from their home directly in the line of fire.
Through the 84th Rader Evaluation Squadron (RADES) co-located at WADS, the Sector assisted in 15 search and rescue operations resulting in the saving of six lives and the recovery of downed aircraft. The most unusual search and rescue operation during that time period was in response to a special request from the US State Department to interpret raw radar data from two countries in the search for an Indonesian commercial airliner that disappeared. The RADES team at the Sector pinpointed the airliner to within a mile of where it crashed into the Indian Ocean, which immeasurably assisted the recovery team effort.
Maintaining top-notch capabilities in the Sector’s wide array of responsibilities is a challenge met by a robust and intense exercise program. A no-notice NORAD Alert Force Evaluation, resulting in an “Excellent” score in every area, attests to the benefits of frequent training events. The unit has close ties to local communities, too, through volunteer work with many charitable organizations and by exercising individual rights and responsibilities as citizens. The Sector’s 300-plus National Guard members, civilian employees and contractors work at WADS for long periods of time, making them valuable contributors to the Pierce, King and Thurston county communities in which they live.
The Air Force Organizational Excellence Award is a highly sought award by all service components, and it’s a feather in the Sector’s cap to have received it, or its equivalent, nine times from 1970 to 2003.
“It is appropriate to recognize the overwhelming success and reputation of the WADS with the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award,” General Lowenberg wrote. “It could not be granted to a finer group of professionals.”