Vandenberg Air Force Base, an 80-year-old military base in Santa Barbara County, was transitioned into a Space Force Base on Friday, becoming one of the first such bases for the newest branch of the military in the U.S.
The now Vandenberg Space Force Base originally started as Army base Camp Cooke in 1941. Initially a troop training base during WWII, the Camp quickly changed what it was during the subsequent years, becoming a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian troops, being shifted back to a training base during the Korean War, and a federal prison until being formally converted into Cook Air Force Base in 1956.
The base soon established itself as a missile and, subsequently, a rocket base due to Cold War needs. Renamed as Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1958, space operations quickly grew there as well, with some of the first satellites ever being launched, and the base chosen as the West Coast Space Shuttle launch center in the 1970’s. However, the Challenger disaster in 1986 stopped that from becoming a reality, focusing on missile and satellite launch operations for the next several decades until the need for space launch capable military bases arose in the late 2010’s following the creation of the Space Force.
Vandenberg now becomes one of the first officially renamed Space Force centers following the 2020 renaming of Florida’s Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station into Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station respectively.
While other Air Force bases and stations are currently being utilized by the Space Force, including Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, only Patrick, Cape Canaveral, and Vandenberg have made the name change to date.
In a statement, the Space Force noted that the re-designations were crucial for both the identity of the Space Force and to confirm to both the public and military alike what the new changes are, similar to how many Army Air Corps airfields were converted to Air Force use following WWII.
“Re-designating Air Force installations as Space Force installations is critical to establishing a distinct culture and identity for the Space Force,” a statement by Vandenberg Space Force Base said.
Vandenberg’s re-designation as a Space Force Base
However, the re-designation may also hold some political and economic implications in the coming years.
“Base re-designations in the past have often been a boon to local economies,” William Brewer, a former Airman at Vandenberg AFB and military historian, told the Globe. “When all the Army fields were upgraded to Air Force bases during the Cold War, it brought with them a wave of construction jobs followed by a large number of supporting businesses. Many small towns across the U.S. suddenly had a lot of money flowing in and the need for more people.”
“But this hurt too, since many closures after the Cold War decimated these local communities. I know someone who served at Plattsburgh AFB in New York and stayed in town after leaving the service, and when the base closed after years of fighting by locals to keep it open, the local economy hit hard times at the same the the rest of the U.S. was in the middle of an economic boon. The closures hit hard.”
“But Vandenberg has been time tested with a distinct Southern California location and operations that only they are capable of doing as a result. With the Space Force now being established, the growth of operations means more people and more money coming through, which is good for the county and local communities. And it also means political currency too, as the Space Force Base holds a lot of economic chips, and votes, for politicians in the area. They always do. When base closures or expansions come up, every politician crawls out of the woodwork to push for their base, and them saving or building up the base is an almost guaranteed win at the ballot box.”
Other Air bases are expected to be renamed as Space Force bases in the near future.
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