By Master Sgt. Linda E Welz
1AF (AFNORTH) PA
Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. – First Air Force celebrated the grand opening of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center here with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the 37,000-square-foot, $30 million combat center.
First Air Force, which also serves as the Continental US NORAD Region under the North American Aerospace Defense Command, provides air security and air sovereignty defense for the continental United States. The new AOC plans, directs, and assesses air and space operations for NORAD, and the United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM).
Conceived in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the state-of-the-art AOC further enables First Air Force to protect America’s skies from attack, as well as provide life-saving relief during natural and man-made disasters.
Ms. Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, and director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker. Her brother, Charles “Chic” Burlingame III, a retired military aviator, was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77 that was hijacked by terrorists and flown into the Pentagon.
Ms. Burlingame said when times are difficult, Americans pull together as a nation toward a common goal.
“We are a country of achievers that dream big and fight hard to the end,” said Ms. Burlingame. “We love to win (and) this spectacular new facility is here because people will never again let a tragedy like 9/11 happen; not on our watch.”
As the newest combat center in the Global War on Terror, the AOC operations floor employs a high-tech, two-story, 16-screen data wall in a media-based theater reminiscent of a space-age control center.
America’s AOC employs the Theater Battle Management Core Systems that the Joint Forces Air Component Commander uses to task and re-task theater assets by providing real-time feeds to pilots, navigators, and air battle managers, allowing them to make better informed decisions.
It also employs, through its Western and Northeastern Defense Sectors, the Battle Control System – Fixed program, to collect input from a network of radars to alert operators of airborne activity in continental U.S. airspace. BCS-F provides key technology for the protection of the sovereign airspace over the continental U.S., Canada and surrounding waters.
General Ronald Keys, Air Combat Command commander, spoke of the many sorties, evacuations, rescues, firefighting missions, and other missions that the command had completed since the 2001 terrorist attack.
He called the opening of the new AOC a red-letter day.
“We stand here on the first day of hurricane season knowing well that these Florida Air National Guard warriors are on the job,” said General Keys.
“Americans can sleep well knowing their Air Force is awake and engaged here at America’s AOC.”
Major General Hank Morrow, First Air Force commander, called the AOC opening another step in the continuing mission to keep America safe.
“As we continue to hone America’s technological edge we are able to strengthen our homeland defenses and bring military and civilian authorities together under on roof,” he said. “Our team is an operational example of how our Total Force is engaged to keep our skies safe.