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Snap, crackle, pop: From mechanical to modern, Grimes finds himself back at Clear

CLEAR AIR FORCE STATION, Alaska – Lt. Col. Keith Grimes, 213th Space Warning Squadron operations officer of the Alaska Air National Guard, left, shows Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of Strategic Command, around Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, Oct. 14, 2015. Grimes returned to the station to serve in an administrative role. He was stationed at Clear AFS early in his career and worked on the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar. (Courtesy photo)

CLEAR AIR FORCE STATION, Alaska – Lt. Col. Keith Grimes, 213th Space Warning Squadron operations officer of the Alaska Air National Guard, left, shows Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of Strategic Command, around Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, Oct. 14, 2015. Grimes returned to the station to serve in an administrative role. He was stationed at Clear AFS early in his career and worked on the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar. (Courtesy photo)

CLEAR AIR FORCE STATION, Alaska -- CLEAR AIR FORCE STATION, Alaska –Lt. Col. Keith Grimes, operations officer for the 213th Space Warning Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard, remembers his time as a crew commander for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in 1994-95 at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska.

Grimes served as an active duty airman when the BMEWS was scanning the skies. He left Clear AFS, switched into the Air Force Reserves and obtained a law degree before his path led back to Alaska to work on a post-BMEWS installation.

The radar environment was vastly different about two decades ago when then-Capt. Grimes prowled the site, leading his team in monitoring the skies for threats. The BMEWS radar had many more mechanical components, for example.

“The environment was much more energized and alive,” Grimes said. “You could actually hear the system working.”

Operators could hear the antenna move while it tracked objects, he said. Audible popping noises were a typical part of the background noise and people were hustling around carrying out assignments.

“It looked like a battleship structure,” said Grimes. “It was very 1950s, very metallic.”

The BMEWS radar was decommissioned in 2002 and replaced with a Solid-State Phased Array Radar System. The BMEWS radar was demolished in October 2016.

The new system stands in stark contrast to its old cousin. Grimes said it is very clean and efficient by comparison. It’s more akin to the deck of the mythical Starship Enterprise than a battle ship.

“If you heard popping noises now you would be worried,” he said. “It’s more modern, like an office.”

Grimes’ road led him out of active duty and into the Air Force Reserves and higher education. He wanted to accomplish two things, get a law degree and stay in the Air Force. Going into the Reserves made that possible.

“The idea was to do space law in Colorado Springs,” said Grimes. “But that changed and I went into patent law.”

He put his science background from the Air Force and his law degree to use working for a large defense contractor for a time.

Eventually, Grimes was made aware of an opening back at Clear AFS and applied. He became an active guard member and assumed his duties in early 2005 after roughly a decade away.

“The old radar was inoperable when I got back so I didn’t have a chance to go back (and visit),” said Grimes.

There were other changes on Clear AFS as well, but they were good changes. Those were interesting times, he said, with the 213th SWS transitioning to become the majority force provider for the mission and for security forces which was a unique situation at the time. But all went well and life at Clear progressed..

“I was happy to be back,” Grimes said. “I saw a lot of people from the old days. It was more like a homecoming. I like the community atmosphere, it has a small-townish feel.”

Since 2010 Clear AFS continues to experience sustained upgrades and growth at an exponential rate, Grimes said. It has reached a point where infrastructure issues can be addressed at a higher priority and other military programs have been drawn to the location.

“We are adjusting to a number of changes,” he said. “It’s no longer the sleepy installation it used to be. It’s hustling and bustling.”

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