Vandenberg renamed to Space Force Base, highlighting nation’s access to space
On a brisk, sunny Friday afternoon, Vandenberg bid its Air Force Base and 30th Space Wing titles a historical farewell and welcomed the new Space Force Base name and Space Launch Delta 30 designation, “blue threads and brown threads alike.”
Hundreds gathered at Vandenberg for the ceremony, including representatives from the Governor’s Military Council, the offices of Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Salud Carbajal, the mayors of Lompoc and Buellton, the Space and Missile Systems Center, and numerous generals, commanders and colonels for the U.S. Space Command, 30th Space Wing, 30th Operations Group and 30th Mission Support Group.
The event began with the presentation of colors, musical honors, the National Anthem and some history of the installation of Vandenberg, followed by remarks from each colonel leading the groups being inactivated.
Former 30th Space Wing Commander Col. Anthony J. Mastalir became the new commander of Vandenberg Space Force Base, and while addressing the crowd and his base, referenced the prior dedication of the Vandenberg Air Force Base that occurred more than six decades ago.
“In 1958, not far from where I’m standing right now, Maj. Gen. David Wade spoke at the dedication ceremony of Vandenberg Air Force Base, and he predicted, ‘The air here will resound with the thunder of rocket engines.’ Well, of course, he was right,” Col. Mastalir said at the ceremony. “In a few months, we’ll launch number 2,000 here on the Western Range — an exclamation point underscoring more than six decades of dedication, persistence and commitment to assure American access to space.”
In addition to giving his remarks, the new Space Force commander bestowed a symbolic honor upon one of the distinguished guests in attendance — Capt. Jim Kunkle, a P-38 fighter pilot who fought the Germans over Nazi-occupied Europe. Capt. Kunkle was shot down during a dogfight but downed an enemy in the process, earning him a Distinguished Service Cross. The veteran received an honorary membership in the U.S. Space Force on Friday, as well as the first ever Space Launch Delta 30 Commander’s Coin.
“It’s inspiring when a member of the greatest generation takes the time to pay it forward with the latest generation,” Col. Mastalir told Capt. Kunkle and his wife, Ruth Kunkle, who was also in attendance. “You are the first recipient in the history of the world. I do this in deep appreciation to you for a lifetime of dedication to the U.S. armed services.”
Capt. Kunkle told the News-Press after the event, “I think back many, many years ago when I wished I had rockets! It truly is thrilling to be here. This is the beginning, the start.”
Col. Mastalir told reporters after the ceremony that day-to-day, the name change and new designation “doesn’t change anything,” as the base already provides range services, preserves the safety of the public and ensures launch providers have an area to safely test missiles or put their satellites in orbit, and they’ll continue to do so.
“A little bit of the reorganization is actually going to make us better at what we do today and optimizes some of our processes by bringing disparate organizations closer together,” he said. “…I would say it’s not a direct impact in terms of just switching from the 30th Space Wing to Space Launch Delta 30, but when you step back, what we’re doing is part of a larger issue we see on the horizon.”
He said that the nation is already seeing an increased demand for space lift, with new venture capital being poured into commercial space and a permissive national policy when it comes to public-private partnerships.
He added that in a few months, the U.S. Space Force expects to set up a Space Systems Command, and then a Star Command or Space Readiness and Training Command after that. The commander said that while the base doesn’t know where the headquarters will be located, “I can tell you if they ever come to the Central Coast and take a look at what we have at Vandenberg, we’ll be in the running.”
Col. Mastalir pointed out many other operations the Space Force works on other than the missile launches, including: aeronautical testing, testing new weapons systems, testing infrastructure and measuring radars and optics necessary for various agencies to test things out. He said that the satellites in orbit power everything from electrical grids to international translation to GPS to fire detection and more.
Furthermore, the commander said that the need for a “lean, agile, mission-focused group” is especially important right now and in the coming years.
“I can tell you that if you look at what’s happening around the world, if you look at some of our potential adversaries, there is a desire to take away the significant advantage that U.S. forces have because of our space base capabilities,” Col. Mastalir told reporters. “You can see today, we have countries like China and Russia that are building weapons designed to negate space-based capabilities, so that’s very concerning … We have to be prepared to ensure that we have the proper assets on orbit to protect and defend what we need.”
Major General DeAnna M. Burt, the Commander of the Combined Force Space Component Command and the U.S. Space Command, and the Deputy Commander of the Space Operations Command, the U.S. Space Force and Vandenberg, gave remarks at the ceremony as well. She said she was “delighted to take another step in building the structure of the U.S. Space Force.”
“For decades, Vandenberg has been at the heart and focal point of the Space Force and Air Force Space Command, and now headquarters Space Operations Command,” she said to the crowd. “It’s been a starting point for space operations across the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force. It has long been known as space country.”
The general compared today’s space landscape to the one she found when she first joined Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2006.
“While our dedication to space missions is equally as pronounced today as it was then, the context in which we conduct this mission has changed drastically. No longer simply a benign operation environment, space is now competitive, congested, contested,” Major Gen. Burt said.
Remarks were also given by Colonels Kris Barcomb, Commander of the 30th Operations Group, and Michael Hunsberger, Commander of the 30th Mission Support Group, as both groups were inactivated. The event was narrated by Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dea, and the brass quintet Travis AFB Band of the Golden West accompanied it.
Col. Mastalir said to his base toward the end of his speech, “We feel and hear the sonic boom of boosters returning to land, only to prepare to fly again, of unnamed space planes to be orbiting safely to our runway. You have paved the way for increased simultaneity launching multiple interceptors only seconds apart. You forged autonomous flight safety systems allowing us to divest for mere obsolete infrastructure. You’ve increased responsiveness. In fact, as I speak, the range is on alert, ready for a 21-day call up to execute a tactical launch order, and you’ve taken mission assurance to a new level never before achieved, when last month you launched a Delta 4 Heavy in the first open minute of the first window on the first scheduled launch attack.”
“So where will Space Launch Delta 30 go next? What does the future hold for Vandenberg? Well, that depends on you.”