611th Air Support Group adds eight tropical Pacific locations

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amy Hansen
  • Alaskan Command Public Affairs
Beginning Oct. 1, the 611th Air Support Group is adding eight tropical locations in the Pacific to the list of sites it already manages around Alaska.

Due to the creation of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, the management and support of Wake Island Airfield and seven other geographically separated locations are being moved from the 15th Wing at JBPHH to the 611th ASG at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

The other locations making the transition are Kokee Air Force Station, Wheeler Army Airfield Annex, Ka'ala Air Force Station, Bradshaw Training Area, Johnston Island, Punamano Air Station, and Makua Sub-Cable Site.

"PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) saw that we already had an established hub and spoke operation, and picked us to take over this mission because it is basically the same work we already do," said Lt. Col. Eric Hoversten, 611th Civil Engineering Squadron commander.

In Alaska, it is the 611th Air Support Squadron's mission to provide oversight and program management for Eareckson Air Station, King Salmon Forward Operating Location, 15 long-range radar sites, and more than 20 inactive radar and relay sites, according to Maj. Spencer Van Meter, 611th ASUS commander.

Many of the sites are run primarily by contractors, and the 611th ASUS works closely with them to ensure the sites are operating efficiently and the terms of the contract are being fulfilled.

Their mission will be the same for the transitioning locations in the Pacific.
"We're always excited to take on a new mission, but this is a huge challenge due to the distances involved. That said, we have the structure already in place to support geographically separate locations," Van Meter said.

From Barrow, Alaska, to Wake Island Airfield is about 4,074 miles.
Wake Island is less than three square miles in area and lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway between Hawaii and Japan.

It is primarily an emergency divert airfield or planned stopover location on cross-Pacific military flights. About 140 contract employees and 4 active-duty military members reside on Wake, the largest of the transitioning sites, in support of its facilities and mission, according to Van Meter.

"I think it will be logistically challenging to manage Wake from Alaska, but it will also be beneficial because it is a remote site and that's what the 611th does," said Maj. Aaron Wilt, the commander of the 15th Wing's Detachment 1 on the island.

The logistics arrangements and details are a work in progress, but Major Wilt said, so far things are going smoothly.

For example, the 611th ASG changed the time of one of their regularly scheduled meetings to accommodate Wake's time zone, which is four hours earlier than Alaska time, but one calendar day ahead.

A logistical issue for the 611th CES will be the limited transportation to and from the island, according to Hoversten.

The 611th CES oversees the real property, like buildings and runways, at geographically separate locations.

"We do routine periodic quality assurance visits which last only a few days, but the rotator only goes in and out of Wake every other week," he said.

Despite the challenges, Wilt thinks the transition will ultimately be a positive one.
"The 611th ASG is used to providing program oversight, which is a good thing. They will provide more direct involvement and coordination of logistics."

Wake Island's Detachment 1 has no remote-site specific support staff to reach back to, as it falls directly under the 15th Wing.

Due to their experience with remote site locations, the 611th ASUS might be able to help Wake Island find more efficient ways of doing things, Van Meter said.

Also, the 611th CES could use their experience to advocate for resources for capital investment at Wake, if necessary, according to Hoversten.

He also pointed out that for the civil engineers, who are frequently involved in outdoor projects, the winter in Alaska is usually slow. "We can plan projects at Wake during our winter, which balances our operational calendar over all 12 months of the year."
For those who will be required to make the trip from Alaska to Wake Island, a tropical paradise awaits, Wilt said.

"There is a lagoon for snorkeling and kayaking, and it is just slightly warmer and more humid than Hawaii."