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COMMENTARY: Looking back, moving forward

Looking back, moving forward

A badge from the 30th Launch Support Squadron hangs in the Space Museum at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., July 31, 2018. The badge reads “REACH FOR THE STARS, 30TH LAUNCH SUPPORT SQUADRON.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell)

Looking back, moving forward

A group of Airmen and civilians are briefed on the history of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s missile mission at the Space Museum on Vandenberg AFB, Calif., July 31, 2018. The missile mission dates back to the 1950s when the first United States missile was sent into space. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell)

Looking back, moving forward

Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell, 2nd Bomb Wing public affairs photojournalist, stands beside a missile at the Space Museum at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., July 31, 2018. Campbell was chosen amongst her peers to see the importance of the missile mission at Vandenberg and to learn its history. (Courtesy Photo)


At times, being the youngest branch in America’s military can make our history seem less significant when compared to the Army, Navy and Marines.

Older branches have a heritage different from ours. They might be strong and deep-rooted, but we are young and ground-breaking.

I was recently presented an opportunity to learn more about the Air Force’s history and witnessed a product of those innovations.

On a chilly morning in July, during a temporary duty assignment, I was taken to the outskirts of a missile-alert facility with 40 other individuals. We were all awaiting the same event, to observe a test launch of a Minuteman Missile.

Being at a bomber base my whole career, I didn’t know what to expect. There was barely a flight line and everything was so spread out. I honestly didn’t understand the missile mission at all and simply thought of them as big fireworks that can cause damage when aimed correctly. I had a lot to learn.

In the days leading up to the launch, we toured the base, learning the heritage of the mission and our Air Force, eventually being met with the night of the launch.

My adrenaline spiked and my heart was racing as I heard someone buzz on the radio, “prepare for launch…” Those feelings quickly faltered when a few seconds later it buzzed again, “hold launch.” This process repeated four or five times over the course of several hours before we finally heard what we had all been waiting for.

“Prepare for launch,” a voice emitted through the static. “Launch door open.”

When a fire started forming in the distance, the group and I cheered with excitement. What we were seeing was a glow climb higher and higher over the fog into the sky, with a loud, delayed roar, but we knew it was. We watched in amazement one of the Air Force’s most powerful weapons systems went through the various stages of its mission.

When the launch ended, we thought our trip was over and I mentally prepared for my trip home. However, the next day we visited the Vandenberg Space Museum, there I learned a lot that I didn’t know about early Air Force.

Our tour guide educated me on when the first missiles were created, why and how they helped shape what we now know as NASA and more about the missile enterprise today. It was fascinating to walk through the challenges early missileers faced and how they overcame them.

There was so much I didn’t know about missiles. What other history does the Air Force possess that I have never sought after? What more do I have to discover?

My time at Vandenberg Air Force Base was incredibly fascinating, informative and inspiring. We were shown massive command centers, intense weather rooms and other crucial parts of the base that heavily impact this mission.

I saw the center of our wartime preparations and the rooms where decisions are made. I was taken far below ground to see where the missileers turn a key and send off one of America’s most powerful weapons. And I learned a crucial part of our branch’s history that helped to shape what we are today.

Being part of this not only made me excited to go back to work and wear my uniform but made me feel safe in times when anything can happen. I know our military is intelligent, capable and prepared, far beyond what I saw on this TDY.

Today, on the Air Force’s Birthday, I recommend everyone learn more about the history of your mission and the Air Force, even if it is just a simple fact of what year your command or unit started. There is a lot more to this baby branch than meets the eye, here’s to another 71 years of aiming high.