Vandenberg Air Force Base is located northwest of Lompoc, California in what used to be Camp Cooke. The base is under the jurisdiction of the 30th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). Vandenberg is responsible for space and missing testing by the Department of Defense with a mission to place satellites in polar orbit from the West Coast. The base also has wing personnel that offer support for the LGM-30g Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force Development Evaluation program. The Air Force Base is attached to the history of the former Camp Cooke, which was a training center built before US involvement in World War II.
History of Camp Cooke
In 1941, the US Army wanted to open more training centers to train armored and infantry troops for World War II. The Army purchased 86,000 acres off the Central Coast of California between Santa Maria and Lompoc. The land used to be open ranches. This area would eventually become Camp Cooke. The area was quite scenic with canyons, rolling hills, plateaus and remote woodlands that were far away from populated areas. It was considered the ideal training location.
Construction began on Camp Cooke in September 1941. The Army activated the camp early despite that it wasn’t finished until much later. The base was named after Major General Phillip St. George Cooke who was a cavalry officer and had graduated from West Point in 1827. He was an officer in the Indian Wars, Mexican War and Civil War, where he fought for the Union side. Colonel Cooke led a wagon route to California and much of the railroad follows the same path that he took.
Troop training could not wait for Camp Cooke to be completed. The 5th Armored Division began training in March 1942. Tanks and artillery were apart of daily life. They continued training until leaving for the front lines overseas. In addition to the 5th Division, the 6th, 11th, 13th and 20th Armored Divisions were also stationed here. They joined the 86th and 97th Infantry divisions as well as the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment. Anti-aircraft artillery, combat vehicles and hospital units were also developed for Camp Cooke. At one time during World War II, there were over 400 different outfits that passed through the base.
German and Italian prisoners of war eventually made their way to Camp Cooke. They were kept separate from one another and worked at various jobs like civil engineering and mechanical engineering services, food service, laundry service and clerical positions. There were also positions in local community service where labor was severely lacking due to the war. Most of the time, the prisoners worked in agricultural sectors.
In 1946, a maximum security army disciplinary barracks was built and housed military prisoners from the Army. As the camp closed in 1946, the personnel at the disciplinary barracks were tasked with installing caretaking facilities. Then the entire camp was turned over for grazing and agriculture.
Camp Cooke became a training installation for units headed to Korea between 1950 and 1953. The camp was inactive by February 1953. The Vandenberg Air Force Base was built four years after Camp Cooke closed. Missile development in the 1950s required a place for adequate training and testing. Vandenberg Air Force Base became the first comat ready missile base. The remote distance from cities and the terrain was perfect for a new Air Force base.
History of Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg was named in honor of General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who was the second Chief of Staff of the US Air Force and chief architect of the modern Air Force. He would retire in 1953 and later die in Washington D.C. in 1954.
Camp Cooke was largely inoperable when the first airmen arrived at Cooke Air Force Base in the 1950s. The buildings were rundown. The dirt trails were in need of repair. Renovation and construction began to build a better Air Force base and construct several necessary facilities like missile launch and control centers.
The 392nd Air Base Group was activated in begin operations at Cooke AFB. The first Air Force ballistic missile wing was the 704th Strategic Missile Wing. The 1st Missile Division was also activated in Inglewood, California but later relocated to Cooke AFB. Most of the missile operations and training in the US was supervised by these two divisions.
As the Russian Sputnik satellite went into orbit on October 4th, 1957, the US Air Force began to ramp up its space operations. The Department of Defense allowed launching ballistic missiles from Cooke AFB for testing. Operations began to increase until Cooke AFB had the largest Operational System Test Facility.
In 1958, Cooke AFB was renamed to Vandenberg AFB and began testing PGM-17 Thor missiles, SM-65 Atlas, HGM-25A Titan I, LGM-25C Titan II, LGM-30 Minteman, LGM-118 Peacekeeper and ground-based midcourse defense interceptors. Vandenberg also launched the first polar orbiting satellite Discoverer I in 1959.
Space exploration became a major focus for Vandenberg. In 1972, it was selected as the West Coast Space Shuttle launch and landing site. In 1995, the California Spaceport began operations under Spaceport Systems International. It comprised the existing launch pads, payload processing facilities, telemetry, runways and tracking equipment already in place. The shuttle program began launching more satellites including Delta IV and Atlas V.
Space exploration and development continues to be a prime focus of Vandenberg. The SpaceX Falcon is the latest to launch in 2013.
Housing at Vandenberg
Vandenberg has a separate site set up for Vandenberg housing for families and individuals. You can browse all of the current neighborhoods and houses available, and there are also guides for residents who are relocating to the base. The Housing Management Office supports individuals and families moving to Vandenberg Air Force Base. You can reach this office at 805-606-3434 and the DSN is 276-3434. The Housing Management Office includes privatized housing, unaccompanied housing and off-base housing communities.