Managing ‘million’ means mission might

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Rosine
  • Air Force Print News
Some people just can’t seem to manage their back yards.

But the small team of experts at the 56th Range Management Office here can’t afford not to, despite the fact that their back yard is 1.05 million acres of land known as the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

This range supports more than 45,000 flying sorties annually by base aircraft, plus flying operations for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and for the Army, Marine Corps, National Guard and Reserve.

These missions include live-fire training, which can be conducted on the Goldwater Range only because the military has the authority to control entry by both surface and airspace users. This authority is critical to protect the safety of both the public and servicemembers. It also prevents scheduled training operations from being interrupted by non-participating surface users or aircraft.

“The mission of the RMO is a one-stop organization to operate and manage the Goldwater range,” said Maj. Daniel Garcia, chief of environmental science management. “This is important because all the jets from Luke and Davis-Monthan, plus Army helicopters from the region and all other users that use either Luke airspace or the Goldwater range, all need to be scheduled through RMO.”

The office is responsible for scheduling air and land operations, and contracts for agencies that operate everything on the range.

“This is critical because for pilots to get the training they need, whether it is air-to-air or air-to-ground, they have to have a place to go do that,” Major Garcia said. “And, that airspace and groundspace needs to be separated from the non-participating aircraft and personnel, which is what restricted airspace and ranges offer. That is why we are so critical for military training.”

But the RMO also has some unique operations it must handle.

The office works closely with 18 Native American tribes who claim ancestral heritage to the land. The office works with the tribes, keeping them informed on how the RMO conducts operations on the land and manages the range's resources.

The office staff has a close working relationship with a variety of state and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Cabeza National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Another key partner for the RMO is the U.S. Border Patrol. Different sources report between 450,000 and 700,000 undocumented aliens, or UDAs, cross the range annually in an attempt to enter the U.S. Since the range is a desert, a good working relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol can save countless lives as many of the UDAs have trekked through this desert for days without food or water.

“There is a lot in interagency interaction,” Major Garcia said. “All of us have mutual interests by virtue of being geographic neighbors, or we have significant operations on each other's land or airspace and so we try to work together to make us all successful.”

Office staff members also fight battles such as invading plant species, which threaten the desert range’s environment. They work on wildfire concerns and help protect the Sonora pronghorn antelope population that live on the range. The antelope are an endangered species, with only an estimated 58 of them living on the range this year. They are the fastest land animal in North America, reaching running speeds up to 60 miles an hour.

Another aspect of the RMO is that they are not part of the civil engineer squadron, which is the norm.

“The uniqueness of our situation, being kind of an unusual circumstance as far as ranges are concerned, is that we are outside of civil engineering. This means that we have a direct link to the folks that are orchestrating the training on the range,” said J.T. Hesse, senior wildlife biologist with the office. “In doing so, it allows a greater degree of being able to communicate with one another effectively. The bottom line is that it makes the system here more efficient for everyone.”

The RMO mission is something fully supported by the base’s leaders.

“The leadership is the best part. I was in the Navy and so I have experienced a variety of military leadership,” Mr. Hesse said. “Our military leaders here have created an environment of teamwork that is some of the best I have had the experience to work with. We are a mish-mash of archeologists, biologists, natural resource planners and (unexploded ordnance) folk and we are all working together in support of the other programs.”

According to Major Garcia, who has spent more than five years and two assignments in Luke’s RMO, teamwork is only part of their success.

Experienced credentials and enthusiasm are the keys to our success, he said.

“We also share a love for the desert. We love to be out here working together. They love what they do out here and they love this organization," Major Garcia said. "The overall enthusiasm, teamwork and love of the job really makes me proud to be a part of this organization.”

The RMO includes pilots, archaeologists, biologists, engineers, airspace managers and quality assurance evaluators. They all work with the Air Force and other government agency officials to preserve, protect and enhance the Barry M. Goldwater Range.