How Alaska Became Home to One of the First U.S. Space Force Bases

By Rose Geer-Robbins

While traveling along the Parks Highway, 78 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska, you may happen to notice a small, green highway sign with a left turn arrow that states: “Clear - 5 miles.” Blink and you’ll miss it. That is the only suggestion that a hidden gem of the U.S. military sits in the middle of Alaska - the Clear Space Force Station.

With their duty station in such a remote location, far from loved ones and home, these U.S. Space Force guardians have been getting that connection to home through the USO Alaska team, who works hard to support those undertaking the critical mission of serving in the “final frontier.”

The History of Clear Space Force Station and the U.S. Space Force

Clear Space Force Station is home to hundreds of American service members, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and contractors tasked with the primary mission of monitoring the Early Warning of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile system (ICBM) and the Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). Both are crucial to ensuring the safety of this entire nation, making sure that no foreign adversaries are launching an attack against the United States. The service members’ secondary mission is to provide space surveillance data on orbiting objects to their colleagues at Air Force Space Command Space Control Center (SCC), which is located in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado.

Positioned along a now-defunct Alaskan railroad line, Clear Space Force Station sits in the middle of 11,483 acres, void of significant landmarks or markings. Nevertheless, today the location serves as a crucial political and defensive posts given its geographic location.

Photo credit University of Alaska Anchorage

Radars pictured at Clear, Alaska, sometime between 1963-1966. Clear was the second operational site in the billion-dollar system designed to provide early warning to the North American Air Defense Command should a missile attack be launched against the North American continent.

The station was an important stronghold long before it became the third Air Force station to be absorbed under the newest branch of the military – that is, the Space Force – in June 2021. It was originally constructed on land purchased by the U.S. government in 1949 to be used as a gunnery range and was first dubbed as Clear Air Force Auxiliary Field, part of the Alaskan Air Command. Later, in 1958, the Air Force acquired the site to set up a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.

By the early 1960s, it was evident that while technologically advanced, the base accommodations and provisions had outgrown their support and sustainment capabilities to ensure quality of life for our nation’s service members. At the same time, tensions were at an all-time high between the United States and the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War, and so the U.S. government commenced a significant expansion and upgrades to the station, renaming it Clear Air Force Station.

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, Clear Air Force Station’s mission and cadence ebbed and flowed with the nation’s changing geopolitical interests, especially following the fall of the Soviet Union. Starting in the 2000s, the base began receiving upgrades. In recent years, the station has continued receiving new equipment and resources, providing service members with a duty station with top-notch facilities and operation systems to carry out their missions.

Clear Space Force Station in the Modern Era

Today, Clear Space Force Station serves as home to the 13th and the 213th Space Warning Squadrons, comprised of Arctic airmen from the Air Force, the Alaska Air National Guard and the newly formed Space Force guardians. The dedicated service members at Clear Space Force Station spend their days detecting intercontinental ballistic missiles and sea-launch missiles, along with detecting and tracking about 30,000 space objects daily.

Photo credit U.S. Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Adam Keele

The re-naming of Clear was one of several Air Force space-centric installations to be redesignated as U.S. Space Force installations to establish a distinct culture and identity for the Space Force.

Life for service members working at Clear can be grueling. Typically, service members travel up to 100 miles each way from outlying towns such as Anchorage and Fairbanks to reach Clear, where they will then stay and work for five consecutive “on” days, without returning home. This cadence of five continual working days lasts throughout the entire year – without fail.

For other service members, their mission requires them to remain on Clear for an entire year without leaving the base.

That’s why it’s so important that USO Alaska has been able to support Clear Space Force with monthly programming, which has included events such as a murder mystery dinner night, a sip and paint night and other fun activities. Recently, the USO was able to bring USO2GO kits to service members to provide the comforts of home to their game room. These USO2GOs included video games, board games, movies, books and other items used to create a relaxing space and connect them to home while they are away from their families.

As the mission of Clear Space Force Station continues evolve, the USO will continue to support and engage its service members to bring the comforts of home to them, just when they need it most.

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