By Scott Prater
The invention of the Global Positioning System has transformed the way people perform a vast amount of activities.
When taking a road trip, withdrawing cash from an automated teller machine or simply searching for the nearest auto mechanic, people often discard archaic tools like the local phone directory and road maps in favor of GPS devices.
It’s easy to see why. With the click of a few keys, GPS receivers can pinpoint a location, provide turn-by-turn directions to that location and estimate the amount of time it will take to reach it.
Of course, those handy receivers don’t just make up the data they transmit to users, they all rely on GPS satellites — and the Air Force members who operate them.
Don Addy, National Homeland Defense Foundation president and Air Force Space Command commander’s group member assigned to the 50th Space Wing, is keenly aware of where those GPS signals radiate from, but he also knows that most people who rely on their GPS receivers have no clue as to how the GPS enabled devices work.
Addy began a recreational activity known as “geocaching” about a year ago. In geocaching, participants use a GPS device to find caches, or containers, which fellow geocachers have placed somewhere on the planet.
The activity dates back to the summer of 2000, when improved accuracy of the GPS system allowed for a small container to be specifically placed and located. People who place caches then provide coordinates on a website, where others can obtain information about caches in their vicinity.
Addy and his daughter Meegan named their cache “Thank You Schriever” and placed the container in a rocky outcrop at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. Fellow geocachers can find GPS coordinates for his cache on geocaching websites by searching for it by name or its general vicinity. It’s rated as easy-to-find and once geocachers find it, they learn a little about the 50th Space Wing and the 50th Operations Group, which make the geocaching activity possible. Addy placed a laminated card inside the cache which informs readers that Schriever members are responsible for operating the GPS constellation of satellites.
“My hope is that people will learn to appreciate Schriever AFB , what the Airmen do there and how integral their work is to the operation of the GPS system,” Addy said. “My whole idea was to spread some knowledge about who operates the satellites we use to enjoy this activity.”
Geocaching enthusiasts generally keep a log book of the caches they find and make notes about their caches in their own log books. The hobby has become a worldwide phenomenon, with an estimated five million users, who are busy placing and finding caches in more than 100 countries, according to www.geocaching.com.
The fact that people are becoming aware of Schriever’s role in GPS is not lost on leaders here.
“Billions of people around the world benefit from the GPS signal every day,” said Col. John Shaw, 50th Operations Group commander. “But, very few people know it’s the dedication and hard work of men and women in the 50 OG that make that signal possible. It’s always gratifying when their efforts are noticed and appreciated.”
To date, more than 25 people have found “Thank You Schriever” and signed its log book.
Addy has placed a new log book in the cache container and says the new book is already filling up. People who have found “Thank You Schriever” have written notes on the geocaching website offering their gratitude to Schriever Airmen.
For more information on the geocaching activity, or to search for the “Thank You Schriever” geocache, visit www.geocaching.com.