As White Sands Missile Range prepares for its 50th anniversary in 1995, range officials close out 1994 with a review of the year´s accomplishments and challenges.
In June, ground was broken for a 30,000 square foot commissary. The $5 million construction project is due for completion in April. Also in June, the missile range opened its museum gift shop. The shop, which sits inside the north gate to the main post, features exhibits on subjects such as Trinity Site, where the world´s first atomic device was detonated, and V-2 missile firings from 1946 to 1952. There are also displays which cover Indian and ranching influences in the Tularosa Basin.
On June 24, Brig. Gen. Jerry L. Laws assumed command of the missile range from Brig. Gen. Richard W. Wharton. Laws came to WSMR from Fort Carson, Colo., where he was Assistant Division Commander for Support. During his career Laws has completed assignments at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Fort Sill, Okla., Garlstedt, West Germany and Vietnam. During Operation Desert Storm, Laws commanded the 75th Field Artillery Brigade, III Corps Artillery. His brigade fired the first Army Tactical Missile System for the U.S. Army in the war. Wharton, who retired from military service, now lives in Virginia.
Throughout the summer the missile range endured weeks of intense heat and drought conditions. Wildfires in the Organ and San Andres mountain ranges burned more than 50,000 WSMR acres. On June 28, a firestorm swept down the eastern slopes of the Organs, threatening the main post. The fire was quickly brought under control with no injuries or significant property damage. Containing the fires on WSMR was possible because of teamwork between range firefighters and military personnel as well as personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, Holloman Air Force Base and Fort Bliss. In addition, firefighters from Fairacres, Mesquite, Las Alturas, Organ and Dona Ana County assisted. The Red Cross and Salvation Army also supported the firefighters.
The loss of 122 WSMR feral horses in July to starvation brought on by drought conditions made national headlines. On July 25, New Mexico Governor Bruce King asked Lieutenant Governor Casey Luna to convene a task force including representatives from state and federal agencies, WSMR and animal rights groups.
WSMR worked closely with the task force and the New Mexico congressional delegation to find a solution to the problem of overpopulation in the horse herds. Through the efforts of Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M., $1.5 million was appropriated by Congress to fund removal of horses from the range into an adoption program.
The most promising alternative involves turning the horses over to the New Mexico Prison System. Prisoners would tame the horses and ready them for adoption. An impediment to starting roundups in the fall was a 1973 presidential order which prohibits the military from entering into contracts using convict labor except for specific services. Horse taming is not among the authorized exemptions. Currently, Skeen is working to obtain a one-time exception to the order for the WSMR feral horses. The task force was disbanded in December as Luna prepared to leave the lieutenant governor´s office.
In 1994, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the missile range was completed. The DEIS covers the entire range and associated airspace, cultural and biological resources, social economic impacts and hundreds of military and commercial missions.
The study assesses the potential impacts of both current and future projects, proposed modernizations as well as the continuation of routine maintenance and support activities. It also identifies mitigation measures to be used to reduce or avoid potential adverse environmental effects. This environmental documentation enables WSMR to better serve its customers as well as provide responsible stewardship of its land.
The missile range is a leader within the Department of Defense in undertaking such a broad environmental effort. The WSMR DEIS is now being used as a model for similar efforts at other military installations.
One of the most visible test programs on range in 1994 was the Delta Clipper Experimental vehicle. During its fifth test flight on June 27, the single stage rocket was damaged when an explosion occurred at engine startup. After investigation by Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and McDonnell Douglas experts, the detonation was attributed to fuel cloud vapors that blew into an air purge duct. The repaired and reconfigured vehicle will again be tested at WSMR in 1995.
The Army Tactical Missile System was very active on-range in 1994. On June 9, the program marked its 100th firing of the surface-to-surface artillery weapon. Of the missiles fired to that date, 69 were test firings at WSMR. The remainder were fired during Operation Desert Storm.
In the fall, three tests of the Block IA Army TACMS were conducted. The system is a lighter-weight, extended-range version of the Army TACMS. The first test was terminated as a safety precaution due to an interrupted radio signal between the missile and range control. The remaining tests were successful.
In December, the range´s new Aerial Cable Range completed its first year of operation. This three-mile aerial track strung between two mountain peaks has proven to be extremely efficient and effective. The $30 million facility should pay for itself by this time next year.