By Scott Prater
In his five years as an Air Force officer, Capt. Gregory Tengco has already gained an incredible amount of knowledge. And it’s what he credits his recent earning of an Air Force level award to.
Tengco, 1st Space Operations Squadron flight commander will travel to Alexandria, Va. in early January to accept the Defender of the Year award from the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
According to the MDAA, the award is bestowed upon a U.S. Armed Forces service member from each branch that currently deploys a U.S. missile defense system. These select individuals represent the best in leadership and personal effort, demonstrating their commitment to excellence and their critical role in missile defense. They are an inspiration to their subordinates, peers and superiors.
Tengco, who arrived at the 50th Space Wing in November, earned the award for his work as part of the 12th Space Warning Squadron at Thule Air Base, Greenland, from late 2011 to October 2012.
“He helped develop and test a software package that resulted in a 500 percent improvement of our radar track accuracy,” said Lt. Col. Greg Karahalis, 12 SWS commander. “We knew we had a winner based on the work he was doing.”
The squadron operates the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System Site 1 at Thule AB. The BMEWS is a two-sided, solid-state, phased-array radar system used to perform multiple missions. Its primary task is to provide early warning of intercontinental ballistic missile and sea launched ballistic missile attacks against the continental United States and Canada.
The radar observes the poles and detects any incoming objects it determines to be a missile. Once that happens, 12 SWS forwards the information to decision makers stateside. That’s where Tengco enters the picture, but he refuses to take sole credit for the work, which he said included the extreme efforts of NCOs in the unit.
“The ionosphere interferes with the radar’s ability to characterize targets,” Tengco said. “The work our 12 SWS team did to improve controlling software [known as the Thule Bias Correction Program] is what earned the award. We managed to mitigate the effects of the atmosphere and then we tested the new software to demonstrate that improvement.”
Karahalis explained that Tengco didn’t stop there.
“Before he left, he also set the stage for us to start a new project, called the Ionosphere Scintillation Study,” said Karahalis. “The project will collect a massive amount of data as we get into peak solar activity in 2013. It’s going to answer a lot of questions about how radar performance is effected by the sun’s activity. And Captain Tengco did all this in a one-year tour.”
Tengco said he never imagined that one day he would be performing such vital work while he was majoring in communications at the University of New Mexico six years ago.
“I don’t have an engineering background,” he said. “But, my previous assignment helped immensely. In ICBMs, there’s a lot of attention to detail. When I got to Thule, I was able to incorporate what I learned into the new job.”
Karahalis said 12 SWS’s success with the Thule Bias Correction Program couldn’t have been possible without assistance from the Missile Defense Agency and Sensor, the contractor that worked closely with Tengco and his team.
Though he was aware Karahalis and Hauser had drawn up an award package, Tengco said he was floored when he heard the news.
“This is the most prestigious award I’ve ever won,” he said. “Because of the scope of the award, I never thought I had a chance.”