U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - What began as just an experiment 50 years ago has proven to be a successful and vital asset to the defense and security of the United States.

The Kiernan Reentry Measurements Site conducts critical ballistic missile testing and space surveillance on Kwajalein Atoll. It began with the construction of the Target Resolution and Discrimination Experiment (TRADEX) in 1961.

During its 50 years of operation, KREMS has participated in more than 900 ballistic missile tests. Today, KREMS continues to provide high-quality radar and optical measurements under the direction of Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lincoln Laboratory.

Current and alumni MIT/LL staff, along with several distinguished guests, gathered at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll this week to celebrate 50 years of service with a series of events sponsored by MIT/LL.

Fifty-year friendships were easily recognized among the MIT/LL group who were the first to work at KREMS in the 1960s. They were joined by MIT/LL Director Eric Evans; Division Head of Air and Missile Defense Dr. Hsiao-hua Burke; U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Martha Campbell; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Zachary Lemnios; Director of Test and Warfighter Solutions Center for U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Debra Wymer; and military aide to Lemnios Col. Brian Bedell.

The group arrived Feb. 11 and spent the next few days in technical meetings regarding modernization and operation of KREMS today. The alumni used their time to become reacquainted with the home they knew long ago.

The visit culminated Monday on Roi-Namur with technical tours of KREMS, followed by a ceremony to commemorate 50 years of Lincoln Laboratory's presence at Kwajalein Atoll.

Evans began the ceremony with a short recollection of Col. Joseph M. Kiernan Jr., for whom the range was named.

"[He] created much of the vision for the range during his leadership in the early 1960s," Evans said. "It's been a privilege for Lincoln Laboratory to have been a part of his vision for technological development and operations here for so many years."

Evans praised the alumni in attendance along with those who keep the range operational today. "The range has been run by some of the world's best technology leaders. … We're very proud of the team that we have here."

Campbell continued to praise the hard-working personnel responsible for keeping KREMS operational for 50 years. She commended the unique partnership between the RMI and the U.S. and then spoke of the changing times.

"Fifty years ago the world was a very different place. The U.S. was locked in a Cold War conflict that threatened our country and the world with frightening technologies. Today the Cold War is over and though many of those threats are mitigated, others have emerged and the work you do here is more important than ever."

She said RTS is an integral part of the Pacific range, America's homeland defense and global security. Looking forward, she expects RTS will continue to play a vital role in defense of America and its international partners.

Like the visiting MIT/LL alumni, Lemnios also has a personal tie to Kwajalein. His father, William, worked as the head of MIT's Division 3, Air and Missile Defense Technology, which was responsible for the Kwajalein program. It was fitting that Lemnios be present to celebrate the success of KREMS -- success that his father was certainly a part of. He discussed the history of the first families who worked for MIT/LL on Kwajalein and then the history of each radar as it became operational.

"As I look at the legacy of accomplishments on this range and at the staff that worked here -- it's absolutely remarkable," he stated. He then read aloud a letter addressed to Evans from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. "Since its creation in 1951, MIT/LL has made significant contributions to the department's operations and capabilities through scientific discoveries and technical improvements in critical defense areas. … The laboratory's accomplishments have played a significant part in the deployment of current ballistic missile systems and tactical concepts for our nation's space surveillance systems. Thank you for your partnership in ensuring our nation's security."

Wymer voiced regrets from Gen. Richard Formica who could not attend.

"SMDC is proud of the relationship we have with Lincoln. Together we've kept the KREMS sensors modernized so that they remain world-class assets for DoD and the nation."

Wymer highlighted some of the impressive modernization projects to KREMS. Fifty years of service is a testament not only to the radars themselves, but also to those who run it and the relationship between SMDC and MIT/LL, said Wymer. She thanked the alumni in attendance and conveyed her enjoyment in conversing with them about what life was like on Kwajalein in the 1960s.

Evans closed the ceremony by looking to the future. "Lincoln Laboratory is very proud to be a part of the range's great legacy. As we look ahead, we look forward to working on the next set of technology challenges. We look forward to playing the talents of our best staff. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Marshallese people. And we look forward to meeting the very significant national security challenges that lie ahead."

Evans presented a plaque from MIT/LL to USAKA for 50 years of service, which was accepted by Col. Joseph Gaines, USAKA commander.