By Scott Prater
It has an odd sounding name and is separated from Schriever by more than a 1,000 miles and three states, but the Vandenberg Air Force Base Patch and Test Facility plays an integral role in 50th Space Wing business.
As part of the 21st Space Operations Squadron, it provides command and control communications support to the Air Force Satellite Control Network. It links more than 150 Department of Defense and allied satellites, eight remote tracking stations, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. It also supports the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the White House Communications Office among other agencies.
And now, in just its third year of operation, the VAFB Patch and Test Facility can add one of the nation’s top communications awards to its already impressive resume: Outstanding Defense Information System Network Facility of the Year for 2012.
The award is decided and presented by the Defense Information Systems Agency’s continental U.S. branch, which recognizes the top organization in six categories.
“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. Andy Wulfestieg, 21 SOPS commander. “I am extremely proud of the work we do here and the way we work together through all the challenges, projects and issues to deliver outstanding support to the AFSCN and the 50th Space Wing. These efforts provide space-based capabilities to warfighters and the entire world that affect every aspect of their missions and lives.”
According to 50 SW Commander Col. James Ross, the VAFB Patch and Test Facility maximized network availability for mission users, executed an enterprise-wide crypto modernization effort and supported communications for 12 successful launches, all while maintaining a 99 percent mission reliability rate.
“This award [for Category 1 — Global Information Grid small transmission facilities] is a great recognition for the hard work going into our critical enabling infrastructures,” Ross said. “Without teams like 21 SOPS, our wing’s mission, commanding satellites, would not be possible. I’m extremely proud of the work they’ve done and I’m elated to celebrate this award. It’s more awesome work from the 50th Space Wing.”
Wulfestieg pointed to the total number of outages, issues resolved and support to several significant modernization upgrades as probable factors toward earning the award. During 2012, the facility transitioned numerous circuits from an asynchronous-transfer-mode network to an internet-protocol-based network, an operation that involved an immense amount of testing and validation.
“This is a better network now because it’s more fault tolerant,” Wulfestieg said. “The data itself finds additional ways around problems. It can better handle outages between locations, like between Schriever and its remote antennas.”
Russ Jessen, Vandenberg site manager and a contractor for Harris IT Services Corp., believes the recognition shows how motivated military members, civil service employees and contractors can work together toward mission excellence.
“With all the sweeping changes in mission, technology and staffing during these three short years, 21 SOPS still adapts and exceeds the standard, setting an example for other teams to emulate,” he said.
The award was the second consecutive acknowledgement for the communications facility, which took identical honors in the same category in 2011.
“I’ve been working with this team my entire professional career, as an Airman, a civil servant and, for the last 15 years, as a contractor,” Jessen said. “Through all that time, this back-to-back recognition serves as one of our greatest achievements.”