Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Coast Guard Long Range Navigation
(LORAN) Station, Middletown
(US Army West Coast Relay and
News Article: Middletown LORAN Station's
Closure Signals End of Era, Change in Technology (21 May
2010) by Elizabeth Larson
Members of the US
Coast Guard's LORAN station near Middletown, Calif., strike the
colors and lower the flag during the station's decommissioning
ceremony on Friday, May 21, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
MIDDLETOWN As a rear admiral looked
on, Middletown's US Coast Guard Long Range Navigation (LORAN)
station was officially decommissioned at a Friday ceremony.
Shortly before 11 a.m., the order was
given to strike the colors, with three of the station's staff
taking down the US flag from the station's flag pole.
The flag was then folded and given to
the station's officer in charge, Chief Petty Officer Scott Greenlaw,
who in turn presented it to Rear Admiral Joseph Castillo.
As the flag was passed, Greenlaw declared
the station decommissioned.
It was, as Castillo noted, the end of
an era for the station, in service for 33 years. It's a
time to be nostalgic, but it's not a time to be sad, he
On Jan. 4, the Homeland Security Appropriations
Act for Fiscal Year 2010 allowed for the system's termination
after the Coast Guard commandant determined that is was no longer
needed for maritime navigation and the secretary of the Department
of Homeland Security ruled it wasn't needed as a backup for GPS,
according to a government statement.
The nation's 24 LORAN stations have been
an integral part of military navigation systems for 67 years.
The LORAN system uses low frequency radio transmitters that help
Castillo said LORAN usage peaked in the
1980s, but global positioning system (GPS) technology has made
the LORAN-C system obsolete.
Tucked into the hills at the end of Grange
Road, the Middletown station originally was an Army listening
post in the 1950s before being taken over by the US Coast Guard
in the early 1970s.
In the late 1960s, before the Coast Guard
settled in the station, American Indian activists inhabited the
grounds for a time, said District 1 Supervisor Jim Comstock,
who was on hand for the ceremony. Comstock, who was serving in
the Navy in Vietnam at the time of the occupation, said his family
owns the road that leads to the station, located next to his
Castillo said the LORAN station's staff
contributed to the effort of keeping people safe, ships afloat
and planes in safe air, and that they should be proud of their
The closure illustrates a visible change
to a new technology.
Castillo commander of the 11th
Coast Guard District, which includes Middletown likened
the shift from the LORAN to GPS to the shift from sails to steam
in ships, and wood to steel for ship construction.
We knew this time was coming,
With the technology shift, the federal
government moved to close down the system.
The decision to cease transmission
of the LORAN-C signal reflects the presidents pledge to
eliminate unnecessary federal programs, according to a
US Department of Homeland Security statement.
The US Coast Guard terminated all LORAN-C
signals on Feb. 4. Officials at Friday's ceremony said fives
stations in the chain will continue operating temporarily due
to agreements with Canada and the Russian Federation.
In January the Canadian Coast Guard issued
an advisory in which it noted that its LORAN-C system works in
tandem with that of the US, and so will no longer be operational
once the US system shuts down. Canada will therefore decommission
its own system, which is expected to take place by October.
Still to be determined is just what will
happen to the LORAN stations, including Middletown.
Coast Guard officials reported that the
LORAN closures represent $80 million in excess government property
that will be transferred.
Castillo said that it will take awhile
for the building to be fully decommissioned, and that the Governmental
Services Administration is in charge of dispersing government-owned
County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly
Cox said an agreement has been in the works between the county
and the federal government for about 10 years involving transfer
of some Middletown LORAN station property.
Cox said the county is supposed to receive
title to a large portion of the land currently part
of the station, but the details haven't entirely been spelled
He said the county doesn't have anything
in the works on the building or the property immediately surrounding
The US Coast Guard said in a statement
about the LORAN station closures that the system began its active
participation in the LORAN system's development on May 25, 1942.
LORAN-A was implemented in 1943, and for
the remainder of World War II, LORAN-A was instrumental
in the Allied success providing accurate all weather 24 hour
radionavigation for air and sea forces, the Coast Guard
There were more than 75,000 receivers
and 2.5 million LORAN charts distributed by the end of the World
War II. After the war the system was used mostly by civilian
navigators, although the US Air Force used LORAN-A as late as
the Vietnam War and it was in operation in North America until
1980, according to the US Coast Guard.
The LORAN system originally was developed
to provide radionavigation service for U.S. coastal waters; when
LORAN-C was introduced in 1957, it was expanded to include complete
coverage of the continental U.S. as well as most of Alaska, Coast
Guard officials reported.
Earlier this year, the federal government
decided to close all 24 LORAN stations across the United States,
including the one established in the early 1970s in Middletown,
Calif. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
The Coast Guard said other LORAN systems
also were developed for various uses, including LORAN-B, an improved
version of LORAN-A; LORAN-D, a modified version of LORAN-C that
US Air Force bombers implemented for short range use; LORAN-F,
for unmanned drone navigation; and ELORAN, a next generation
Castillo said Friday that by the late
1990s there were more than 500,000 LORAN users.
The Middletown LORAN station's remote
location on 1,200 acres helps obscure its 625-foot-tall tower,
anchored by a circle of high-tension wires. Nearby sits a 10,000-square-foot
building where operations have been headquartered.
The station's staffing went to 21 members
in 1990, but by 1997 it dropped to its current number of five,
Castillo's 11th Coast Guard District encompasses
75-percent of the West Coast LORAN coverage, including Middletown
and two Nevada stations one in Fallon, one in Searchlight,
near Las Vegas.
Greenlaw, a chief electronics technician,
said Friday that when he arrived from Baltimore to take over
duties as officer in charge in August 2007, he found a downtrodden
staff with a station badly in need of repair and what looked
like insurmountable problems.
Within just three months they began to
turn things around, going on to receive numerous commendations
for reliable service up until the station's decommissioning,
In three years, Greenlaw said the station
and its crew achieved the near impossible. He said they called
him The Whip behind his back but it was OK
because he knew about it.
Castillo also recognized Greenlaw's work
with the local US Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 8-8. Members
of the flotilla were present for the event.
In preparing for the decommissioning,
Greenlaw hosted the West Coast meeting for LORAN closures, Castillo
Now, Greenlaw and his fellow Loranimals
have been reassigned to other duties around the United States
and its territories.
Greenlaw is headed back to Baltimore,
another crew member is headed to Alaska, two others to Guam and
the fifth to Coast Guard Island in the Bay Area.
Castillo pointed out after Friday's ceremony
that many LORAN stations are quite small, and not nearly as spacious
as Middletown's. They've got a pretty nice setup.
Castillo, who in his career has seen technological
changes, said the end of the LORAN stations is kind of sad, but
it also signal big changes, which can be exciting.
It kinda makes you wonder, what's
going to come next? Castillo said.
The US Coast Guard's
LORAN station near Middletown, Calif., features a 625-foot-tall
tower and a 10,000-square-foot building. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
US Army West Coast Relay and Receiver
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