They track air threats to Hawaii 24/7 and they're on high alert for Trump's arrival

They track air threats to Hawaii 24/7 and they're on high alert for Trump's arrival
Published: Nov. 2, 2017 at 6:42 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2017 at 6:55 AM HST
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MILILANI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a secure, classified location on Oahu, 230 Hawaii Air National Guard member keep a constant watch over the state.

They work at what's unofficially called "NORAD of the Pacific" — after the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.

They play a critical role in tracking threats to the state — are considered the first line of defense against another Pearl Harbor. And on Friday, ahead of President Trump's visit to Hawaii, they'll be watching Air Force One closely and anything that may get near it.

The group's official name: The 169th Air Defense Squadron based at Wheeler Army Airfield.

If you haven't heard of them, it's because television news cameras haven't been allowed inside the secured facility for nearly 20 years. Until now.

"So all of these little moving pieces here, these are all aircraft that are in the air that we're tracking," said Technical Sgt. Adam Bray, pointing to one of the three computer screens in front of him.

The group is able to communicate directly with the FAA, the Navy and Air Force as they monitor any threats to Hawaii.

They can even communicate directly with any aircraft.

"We detect, we monitor, we ID, and if necessary we intercept and destroy any airborne threats to the Hawaiian islands," said First Lt. Sharon Wahinekapu, air battle manager.

Twenty to 30 personnel are on duty at any given time.

"We're tasked here with identifying everyone who flies within our airspace, so everyone within 250 nautical miles of Hawaii," said Bray. "If it's a missile, it has different flight characteristics. The speed of that's going to be different."

When the president arrives, the group enforces a temporary flight restriction.  And if any aircraft breaks those strict flight rules, they'll see it.

"We are in contact with the Western and Eastern air defense sectors," Bray said, "and track that aircraft for the entire flight."

Airman First Class Jake Nakamura said he's got his dream job.

"It's very exciting. Second I walked in here I knew I wanted to work here," he said.

Same goes for Bray, who said  the magnitude of what they're doing makes it special.

"Like when the president rolls into town, that's something that really brings it home how important it is what we do here."

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