Key leaders from the U.S. Army's 1st Space Brigade, 53rd Signal Battalion, and Alpha Company cut a ceremonial red, white, and blue ribbon in front of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's newest Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Center at Fort Detrick on the afternoon of March 7.
The event marks the second of four brand new WSOC building upgrades slated through early 2014. The ground breaking for the facility began back in January 2010 with construction starting shortly afterwards. The Baltimore Corps of Engineers, Fort Detrick, Md., completed the building under contract in early summer 2011 at a cost of $10.5 million.
The keys to the facility were handed over on July 19. Installation of equipment followed and underwent testing with verification completed in December. Initial operational capability for the facility was declared on January 11 of this year.
"Today represents an important milestone in our first core task of providing trained and ready space and missile defense forces and capabilities," said Lt. Gen. Richard P. Formica, commanding general of SMDC/ARSTRAT.
Addressing a crowd of local area officials, Soldiers, civilians, contractors, and Family members Formica stated, "As we dedicate this new facility we replace the 1980s era satellite control capability here at Fort Detrick with this 27,244 square-foot state-of-the-art facility. This center here serves as the new operations center for the Army Space Soldiers of Alpha Company, 53rd Signal Battalion in our 1st Space Brigade."
"These Soldiers are the controllers of the Defense Satellite Communications System and Wideband Global SATCOM constellations. That means that they command the payload on these satellites."
But this new WSOC facility is more than brick and mortar according to Lt. Col. Benjamin C. Jones, commander of the 53rd Signal Battalion.
"We have some of the very best and brightest Soldiers here at Alpha Company," said Jones. "Our Soldiers performing satellite control are selected from among the best in the 25S community (the military occupational specialty for the Army's satellite communication systems operator/maintainer.)
"In addition to completing this advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Ga., they must attend an additional 19 weeks of a follow-on course to earn their identifier as controllers. At that point their training as a satellite controller has really just begun. Because once they arrive at the unit they begin an intensive training and certification program, which must be completed before each Soldier is authorized to serve as a member of a crew on our operations floor."
"I'm extremely proud of the hard work of our Soldiers, civilians, and the contractors who perform our important mission set 24/7, 365," said Jones.
The U.S. Air Force launches and parks the military satellites in orbit. It is then that the Army's role concerning the satellite becomes clearer according to Capt. Mickey J. Pletcher, commander of Alpha Company.
"Pretend like we are a school bus," said Pletcher.
"The Air Force are the guys behind the wheel driving it and I'm the bus monitor. I let people on and off the bus. I configure the seats on the bus. I make people sit in the appropriate seats and when it is time for them to get off I direct them off the bus."
"The payload represents the seats inside the bus and the users are the people who get on the bus to ride it between point A and B. And that is what we do here with our 61 Soldiers that are trained and ready," said Pletcher.
There are a total of five WSOC locations around the globe including the one at Detrick. The others are: Wahiawa, Hawaii; Fort Meade, Md.; Landstuhl, Germany; and Okinawa, Japan. These facilities are the focal point for conducting payload command and telemetry functions. The WSOCs also perform transmissions monitoring functions, controlling terminal access, monitoring the health and welfare of the spacecraft, and evaluating the quality of communications links and implementation of restoral plans on a 24-hour basis.