National Guard

Master Sgt. John Swearingen (right), power production superintendent for the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Civil Engineer Squadron and a 1979 graduate of Kodiak High School, reviews project plans here on May 19, 2014, with Master Sgt. Thomas Bradley, superintendent of the squadron's electrical shop. The two were among 34 Alaska Air National Guard members who deployed for two weeks to this remote base on the western tip of Australia to prepare it to receive a space radar antenna. [National Guard photo by Capt. John Callahan]

Two Kodiakans are taking part in a space-tracking project in a place possibly even more far-flung than Alaska.

Try far-western Australia.

Master Sgt. John E. Swearingin and Tech Sgt. Abigail Olivares, both graduates of Kodiak High School, are part of a 34-person detachment from Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th wing sent to relocate 75 tons of space-surveillance equipment to Fort Holt, on the western tip of Australia

The equipment was moved from the Caribbean island of Antigua.

“This relocation will allow the U.S. Air Force’s Space Command to better track space debris and satellites in the Southern Hemisphere,” the Alaska Air National Guard said in a statement.

The Australian facility “will be the first low-Earth-orbit space surveillance network sensor in the Southern Hemisphere. Once completed it will operate under the auspices of Space Command under a joint agreement with the Australian Department of Defense. The radar will be able to accurately track up to 200 objects a day, from satellites and space launches in Asia to ‘space junk’ dropped by astronauts during space walks,” it added.

The National Guard sends detachments from all over the U.S. to work on the site.

For the next two weeks the Alaskan Guard members will help prepare the facility to receive and install more than 75 tons of space-surveillance radar equipment being relocated to Holt from the Caribbean Island of Antigua.

“It’s a really innovative approach – one that could serve as a model for future projects,” said Lt. Col. Jack Evans, the squadron’s commander.

The National Guard brings in a broad range of talent, from carpenters and electricians to structural engineers and heavy equipment operators.

“It’s a great opportunity for our younger folks to work with a variety of different teams -- electrical, plumbing, HVAC and so forth -- and see how those different teams operate,” said Swearingin, an electrical shop supervisor for the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron and a graduate of Kodiak High School (Class of 1979).

Initial estimates placed the total costs of the operation at $70 million. By replacing contractors with rotating teams of Air Guard members, space command expects to save $20 to $30 million from that figure.

The first rotation of Air Guard members at Holt took place in August 2013. The Alaska contingent comprises the sixth such group to work on-site. The radar is expected to come on line in 2016.

The Alaska Air Guardsmen, most drawn from the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, are here as part of a 15-day training deployment.

These types of short deployments offer the Guard real-world work.

“These kinds of deployments let us train in a number of things,” said Olivares, a utilities and fuels technician with the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron who graduated from KHS in 2004.

“We practice working as a team, and the squadron’s more senior personnel get leadership experience as we work with the younger Airmen. We also get a chance to cross-train, doing some things and practicing some skills that aren’t normally part of our jobs,” Olivares added.

Contact Peter J. Mladineo at

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