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News | Jan. 16, 2009

Extraordinary people maintaining extraordinary locations

By Daniel Blair, ARCTEC Alaska and Tommie Baker, 611th Civil Engineer Squadron

The Arctic winds blow violently off the frigid seas, so hard at times workers can barely see a few feet in front of them; and the temperatures drop to skin-numbing depths. 

ARCTEC Alaska, the contractor responsible for the Alaska Radar System, has employees assigned to maintain the various radar sites around Alaska in a constant state of readiness to ensure data from the AN/FPS-117 radar is supplied to the Region Air Operations Center located at Elmendorf. The dedicated employees spend months at a time away from loved ones and family members to provide the highest quality of service to help maintain the security of the Alaska skies from international or domestic threats that could jeopardize the United States and the well being of its citizens. 

Station technicians with the ARS work isolated at all of the 15 radar sites scattered throughout Alaska. These individuals, along with the various support workers and station mechanics, sacrifice a normal home life in order to help protect not only the coastal regions of Alaska but also the interior military bases and the North American continent from airborne threats, both foreign and domestic. 

The current ARS contract is a joint venture project between Arctic Slope World Services and ATCO Frontec, a Canadian based company. This joint venture has proven to be the most highly awarded contractor that has ever run the remote radar systems. This is an honor the company takes very seriously with its commitment from top to bottom in providing the Air Force with unprecedented radar up times, and minimal interruptions to the data it provides to the RAOC. 

The ARS has played an integral part in not only the protection of the Alaska coastline, but also the history of the 49th state. 

In the 1950s, the construction of the radar and communication sites took on several different names such as White Alice Communications Systems, which encompassed Tropospheric Scatter and Microwave radio repeater sites, and the Distant Early Warning Line. 

The DEW Line sites were designed and built during the Cold War as the primary line of air defense warning against possible "over the pole" invasion of North American and were adapted for extreme arctic conditions. The DEW Line, better known as the North Warning System, was constructed across Northern Canada and Alaska. In December 1977, the Air Force directed the radar sites to implement the Minimally Attended Radar program in Alaska. These new MAR sites were coastal sites Cape Lisburne, Cape Newenham, Cape Romanzof, Kotzebue, Tin City, King Salmon and Cold Bay on the Aleutian Chain. The MAR sites also included interior sites Fort Yukon, Indian Mountain, Murphy Dome, Tatalina and Sparrevohn. These sites were all implemented and on-line by 1985. 

In 1984, consequently, due to the installation of the MAR program, the Air Force removed all military personnel from the remote stations and the MAR program was bid out to civilian contractors. 

There are currently 15 remote ARS sites throughout Alaska; 12 of the original MAR sites -- Cape Lisburne, Cape Newenham, Cape Romanzof, Kotzebue, Tin City, King Salmon, Fort Yukon, Indian Mountain, Murphy Dome, Tatalina, Sparrevohn, and Cold Bay on the Aleutian Chain, and three sites from the original DEW line sites -- Point Barrow, Oliktok, and Barter Island, and three locations at Elmendorf. 

The three locations at Elmendorf are comprised of the Project Headquarters -- operated and staffed by managers, engineers, logistic personnel, accounting, and human resources support staff. Highly trained radar specialists staff the Maintenance Control and Communications Center. The third location, the RAOC, is staffed by highly trained facility specialists. 

Living the life of an employee for ARCTEC Alaska takes a special and diverse person. Personnel are assigned to the various sites and can spend anywhere from a few weeks to months away from their homes and families to work in the remote regions of Alaska.
Station technicians at the remote coastal sites of Tin City, Cape Romanzof, and Cape Newenham rely heavily on a tram system to provide them with transportation to and from the top camp or radar site to the lower facilities known as the living quarters for other personnel stationed there. In the winter conditions of the coastal sites, the roads are normally closed and the tram systems are the only way for the employees to travel between the two camps. Station technicians work alone at the top camps where the AN/FPS-117 radars are located and may be trapped for days or even weeks at the top camp if the trams are not operational. So, ARCTEC Alaska takes great pride in their workers for taking the stance that mission and service to the Air Force are their highest priority. 

Workers at the sites are trained to the highest standards to ensure their and their coworkers' safety is the highest priority while stationed at the remote sites. They have to pass numerous hours of safety training before departing the Project Headquarters at Elmendorf. Workers are taught the skills to survive in the most extreme areas of the Alaska coastal and interior sites as well as how to survive long periods of isolation. The radar sites are so remote that these safety briefings are of the highest priority for ARCTEC Alaska as their motto is "safety first and foremost" when it comes to the well being of their employees. 

The sites would not be able to operate without the collective group efforts of the logistics personnel who provide the materials and logistical efforts to help support the radar sites with food and materials. 

The sites are also maintained by a very well trained group of station mechanics who must meet the highest quality of standards in order to be considered for working in the remote radar sites. All mechanics must be considered a master mechanic, a generator or power specialist, and also a highly skilled operator of the various pieces of heavy equipment assigned to each site. In the remote regions of Alaska, lives depend on the quality of these workers to do their jobs in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable while maintaining a safety first attitude. These station mechanics risk their lives continually to ensure the other workers are able to live and do their jobs in the safest way possible. 

ARCTEC Alaska and its well-trained work force is an important link in providing the military with the ability to defend and protect the United States with the highest quality of defense possible. 

Mike Mora, project manager, speaks with great pride in reference to the men and women who risk their lives in the remote regions of Alaska to provide the quality work necessary to ensure the Air Force is provided the important data to defend the skies of Alaska. As with any manager, Mora understands the extreme sacrifices the individuals give of themselves and their families to serve the company and their country in these isolated and dangerous areas of Alaska. 

"Without the highly trained and dedicated individuals, ARCTEC Alaska would not be receiving the very highest ratings of any contractor who has run the system," said Mora. "All of the ARCTEC Alaska family take great pride in these award ratings, and strive diligently to ensure there is never a letdown in safety, quality, or performance in the their daily duties." 

The Alaska Radar System is a well run operation under the most extreme conditions, and its employees take great pride in providing a service only a few are capable of or would dedicate themselves to do. 

The 15 ARS sites are part of the area of responsibility of the 611th Air Support Group which is responsible for the second largest but most geographically widespread "cumulative base" in Pacific Air Forces, comprising about 1,000 facilities and 37,000 acres; valued at over $4.2 billion. The 611th ASG provides surveillance radars, arctic infrastructure including airfields, communications, and worldwide ready Expeditionary Air Force warriors for homeland defense, decisive force projection and aerospace command and control in Alaska. All of these efforts are achieved through the activities of the 611th Air Support Squadron, 611th Civil Engineer Squadron and 611th Air Communications Squadron which collectively provide program management, communications, engineering, logistical and environmental support.

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