Vandenberg SFB Launch Operations Support
by U.S. Space Force Airman Kadielle Shaw
February 4, 2022
When it comes to Vandenberg Space Force Base, California there is a variety of planning, precautions and preliminaries needed prior to any of our launches.
One primary aspect of launches is safety. To help avoid possible injuries or dangerous situations, routines are set in place to protect the base and the community before every launch.
The mastermind behind it all is Tech Sgt. Andrew McKenzie, non-commissioned officer in charge of Launch Operations Support.
Tech Sgt. Andrew McKenzie, NCOIC of Launch Operations Support, talks on his police radio on Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on February 2, 2022. Launch Operations Support is intended to protect the base during launches and handheld radios are the easiest form of communication. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman Kadielle Shaw)
“I’m a one-man operation when it comes to what I do,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie individually conducts the entirety of all operations to prepare and protect the base for any and all launches, with some help from other members of the 30th Security Forces Squadron.
When preparing for a launch, the process starts a few days leading up to the event.
“There’s a number of meetings I have to attend leading up to a launch,” said McKenzie. “On top of that, there’s lots of coordinating with agencies surrounding our area, such as Santa Barbara’s sheriff office and California Highway Patrol.”
During these days, McKenzie discusses with many agencies and departments to inform and devise a safety plan for Vandenberg. Some of the agencies and departments McKenzie reaches out to include Lompoc Police Department, the base safety office, range operations, and any commercial agency connected to the rocket company.
“On most launches, Security Forces and I show up three hours prior to any launch,” he said. “However, for this upcoming launch we will be showing up five hours prior, since it is a flyback mission.”
Flyback missions require more safety preparation and time to ensure the base and its community members are away from potential danger zones. A flyback mission is comprised of a rocket and a booster, where the booster returns onto the pad to be reused for future launches.
“A big aspect is knowing what areas of base we need to block off, depending on the type and location of the launch,” said McKenzie.
When deciding where road blocks need to be placed, Space Launch Delta 30’s safety office plays a huge role. They conduct several assessments and analysis to determine where road blocks need to be to protect personnel from potentially dangerous areas.
Finally, after all safety requirements have been met, it is time for launch.
During the launch and moments after, McKenzie and other 30th SFS members stay in place and enforce the safety precautions they meticulously created.
A 30th Security Forces Squadron member closely observes the NROL-87 launch on Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on February 2, 2022. During launches, SFS members take several safety precautions to protect members on base from possible launch dangers. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman Kadielle Shaw)
“Right after the launch, we keep our road blocks firmly set in place and only allow the fire department and safety office to enter the area,” explained McKenzie.
As the fire chief and safety office members take over, McKenzie and his members continue with their security measures until further notice.
“Once we get clearance from the fire chief that everything is safe and complete, we act accordingly and release the road blocks, informing everyone that it’s safe to proceed to where they need to go,” he said.
Once the entire launch process is complete, McKenzie is ready to do it all again for the next launch, and many after that to come.
“This mission and this job title is so unique, and I never expected to be working with space launches like this,” said McKenzie. “I’m happy I have the opportunity to be doing this.”
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