Ranchers from the surrounding White Sands Missile Range area received a tour of WSMR’s historic landmark, Trinity Site, during the annual Rancher’s Day Sept. 13 to thank the ranchers for their cooperation with the installation during test missions.
For the 19th year WSMR hosted the event to thank local ranchers who through an agreement are asked to leave their homes during certain test missions due to their proximity to the range. Close to 70 ranchers attended this year’s event. The ranchers come from areas as far northeast as Ruidoso, New Mexico and as far north as Socorro, New Mexico.
“We do a lot of analysis to ensure we conduct a safe operation,” said Director of Range Operations Gilbert Harding. “We try not to evacuate, we don’t want to affect your lives but sometimes there is a level of risk we’re not comfortable with and that’s when we ask you to evacuate.”
The goal of the event is to show the ranchers the importance of WSMR’s mission and the important role they play in the mission. The day is usually filled with a unique perspective of WSMR, ending with lunch and entertainment.
“I’ve been to two Rancher’s Days and this one has been my favorite,” said Penny Golliheair a rancher from the Socorro, New Mexico area.
Golliheair and her husband have lived in a ranch near Socorro, New Mexico for about 40 years but she wasn’t able to attend previous Rancher’s Days due to her busy work schedule. She said this year’s event taught her a lot about the nation’s history. This year, the ranchers were treated to a unique tour of WSMR most requested site to visit, Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested. Because of the testing that occurs throughout the year and the isolated location, the site is only open to the public twice a year.
The tour started at ground zero, the location where the bomb was detonated, where retired WSMR Public Affairs Specialist Jim Eckles talked about the events leading up to the test and the test itself.
“I learned more about it today than I did in school,” Golliheair said.
The ranchers were then taken to the McDonald Ranch House, where the plutonium core of the bomb was assembled. They were also the first to view new sets of displays that will be up for the Oct. 1 Open House. Golliheair said this was a unique opportunity for her to not only get a private visit of the site but for her to be able to meet other ranchers from the surrounding area.
“Some of them I’ve known, and I’ve met a few today that I didn’t know,” she said. “I enjoyed meeting people in the same business.”
Though evacuations for ranchers like Golliheair aren’t often, she said she is happy to work with the installation when they do occur because she understands the important role they play in the WSMR mission.
“We think it’s very important to both sides,” she said. “We appreciate what they do for us, keeping our country free and I’m sure they appreciate being able to test. I think it all works hand in hand. If they can’t test here, they can’t protect the Soldier out on the field.”
Ranchers also got a chance to meet the new WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Eric Sanchez, who took command Aug. 25.
“Thank you for all you do day in and day out in support of our mission,” he said. “We couldn’t do what we do if you weren’t a part of the team. Soldiers are out there in harm’s way right now and we’re out here trying to figure out what we can develop to help keep them safe. It is imperative that we get them the capabilities to help keep them safe.”
Sanchez was joined by WSMR Command Sgt. Maj. William Maddox, WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Dave Brown and WSMR Test Center Commander Col. Eric Rannow. Several leaders from WSMR, the Test Center and the Naval Surface Warfare White Sands Detachment were also present.
“We’re looking at how we’re going to look at the range in the future,” said WSMR Strategy and Long-Range Plans Director Dan Hicks. “Without the partnership that surrounds us, we’re not going to be able to do it.”