Story & photo by Maj Herb Porter
The Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) McChord AFB, Tacoma, WA, recently celebrated another milestone in its illustrious career as it was awarded the 1998 Air Force Organizational Excellence Award. Being one of only eight Air National Guard units to win such a coveted honor, the members of the WADS proved once again that the Air National Guard is truly a world class organization.
Maj General. Paul A. Weaver Jr., Director of the Air National Guard, congratulated the sector on such a prestigious award. “The competition was extremely keen,” he stated, “and the winner is commended for having been selected from an outstanding group of nominees. The dedication….of the members of this unit enables the Air National Guard to fulfill its commitment to the missions of peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, domestic improvement, and most important of all, the defense of America”.
Similarly, Colonel John L. Cromwell, WADS Commander, added his accolades, further praising the sector’s men and women. “The WADS has uniquely distinguished itself with exceptional service in support of the Air Force, the Air National Guard, the state of Washington, and the local community.
Col Cromwell added, “We have developed an outstanding reputation from the primary customers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the joint community in general, for our service support, technical innovation, and overall commitment to excellence. I am really proud of our people…they truly deserve this honor.”
The Commander of the Washington Air National Guard, also lauded WADS’ accomplishments. Maj General Frank Scoggins stated: “In dozens of major exercises, the unit has been lauded with praise, congratulations, and compliments from major command commanders, inspectors general, civilian drug enforcement officials, and sister service senior leaders”. General Scoggins further added: “The sector sets the standard for continuous volunteerism and its outstanding support for real-world air defense missions.”
The sector is the Air National Guard organization responsible for the air sovereignty of the western 63% of the continental United States. More than 300 Washington Air National Guard members at WADS have operational control of fighters on continuous alert, keeping track of 1.9 million square miles of airspace, from Texas to the Pacific Coast, across to North Dakota. WADS works directly with three alert bases, where pilots wait for the call to identify unknown aircraft that could be a threat to the nation’s air sovereignty. In the award-judging period from May 15, 1996 to May 14, 1998, the sector “scrambled” jets 129 times to identify these “unknown riders”. The WADS scrambled jets another 42 times against potential and actual drug smugglers to support the Domestic Air Interdiction Coordination Center and U.S. Drug Enforcement agencies.
To hone its air sovereignty skills, the sector participated in numerous deployments and exercises during the judging period, including the Felix SPADE – Simulated Penetration Air Defense Exercises — program. During SPADE, the sector practiced 46 live no-notice airspace penetrations. The exercise tested WADS’ ability to detect, intercept, and identify a simulated unknown aircraft trying to violate national sovereignty. The sector was 100 % successful. These exercises paid off in the real world, according to Colonel Cromwell. The sector assisted civilian law enforcement agencies in their arrests of drug smugglers and the seizures of more than 900 kilos of marijuana and 400 kilos of cocaine worth more than $140 million. It also deployed mission-ready personnel for command and control duties to Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Central and South America. Further proof of the sector’s excellence was demonstrated during its most recent operational inspection. WADS achieved the highest rating possible given by the Office of the Air Force Inspector General during its most recent Organizational Readiness Inspection (ORI).