UTTR Family Day a blast for everyone

  • Published
  • By Lee Anne Hensley
  • Hilltop Times staff writer
"This range is a diamond in the rough," explained the retired safety range officer of 27 years for the Utah Test and Training Range, Terry Olsen.
More than 1,000 non-military community members and military family members had a chance to see why the UTTR is a considered a "national asset," as the Ogden Air Logistics Center commander, Major General Kathleen Close, described the range on Wednesday, July 30.
Upon first glance, the 2,675 mile expanse of land and 19,000 square miles of air space that covers west Utah and eastern parts of Nevada appear to be a desolate desert, but after the eyes focus, buildings and unmanned armored vehicles materialize into view. Yet, they are by no means "hidden," and that is the point that Hill Air Force Base wanted to make to its guests.
"We want to let the (family of the range workers) see where they go to work during the week," said Close.
Disclosure of range operations was given to visiting guests via munitions demonstrations and static displays scheduled throughout the day.
Guests visited the Eagle Range where they experienced close range BDU-33 practice bomb drops and a strafing mission by an F-16 Fighting Falcon four-ship from the 421st Fighter Squadron, while Lt. Col. Chris Martin emceed the procedures to the crowd. As a side-note, Martin explained that the Eagle Range was aptly named after the discovery of an eagle's nest in one of the towers years before.
Next the crowd migrated to the Oasis Transfer Facility to watch the stage one static fire of a Minuteman Missile from a safe distance. Retired safety range officer, Olsen, explained that this display was not presented only for the visiting guests, but it happened to be a routine test performed by the range several times per year.
"It is part of the Aging and Surveillance program where they randomly check missile motors to see if they still fire," Olsen said. Most missile shelf-life expectancies were projected at 25 years of age, and most have exceeded this lifespan thanks to the updating programs that the UTTR performs, Olsen said.
The 48,000-pound stage one rocket fired for over one minute, creating a large plume in the air. "That's not smoke," Olsen explained. "Most of what you see is steam, because the heat from the rocket fire heats the moisture molecules in the air."
Guests were then diverted to the explosive ordnance disposal demonstration provided by the 775th Civil Engineer Squadron. Various levels of explosive amounts were demonstrated in a sequence of detonations to give the viewers an idea of the impact that a small dose of explosive ordnance can have. For example, just one-and-a-quarter pounds of explosives blew a watermelon into one-inch pieces. The message was loud and clear - be very careful when handling any amount of explosive ordnance.
During the lunch hour, guests viewed static displays of armored tanks and UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters courtesy of the Montana Army National Guard, as well as a hovercraft demonstration by the UTTR Oasis Fire Chief, Dave Kallman.
For the grand finale, a 42,000-pound Trident C-4 first stage rocket motor was detonated mere miles from the crowd. Both the young and young at heart were equally impressed by the visual explosion and consequent shockwave that plowed through the onlooker's chests seconds after the blast. "Be sure to take pictures, folks," event emcee Dennis Sowards told the crowd to prior to detonation, "This could be the only time you will get to see something like this!"
The events of the day were memorable experiences for both the community and military family members.
"Us big boys like to see things explode," joked Dave Freston, a member of the Top of Utah Military Affairs Committee. "It reminds us of our boyhood days."
For family members, the UTTR Family Day helped them understand the part of their parents' or spouses' lives that they did not know about before. For Meagan Augustine, daughter of Col. Janet Augustine of the OO-ALC, it was an unexpected chance for her to discover experiences her mother had in the past.
"I learned so much about what my mom does that I didn't know about before," said Augustine, "and today she's been telling me about how she's done this, gone here, and did that. It's cool."