Archaeologist receives DOD environmental award

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. – For 15 years, Tom Penders, the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron cultural resources manager, has worked to preserve the environment and history for the 45th Space Wing.

Penders is responsible for conducting archaeological surveys, historic property surveys and construction monitoring at Patrick SFB, Florida, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, Malabar Transmitter Annex, Palm Bay, Florida, and the Jonathan Dickinson Missile Tracking Annex near Jupiter, Florida.

The Department of Defense announced in a press release April 22, that Penders, a native of Titusville, Florida, is the 2021 Secretary of Defense Environmental Award winner in the Cultural Resources Management, Individual/Team category. The award recognizes installations, teams and individuals for outstanding achievement in DOD, Air Force and Space Force environmental programs.

According to the release, Penders’ work was essential to the development of defense and launch programs vital to the 45th SW mission, as well as ensuring that PSFB and CCSFS complied with the National Historic Preservation Act and Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

“Penders does a phenomenal job supporting the 45th Space Wing,” said Mike Blaylock, 45th CES chief of environmental conservation. “He is focused on the mission and his work is extremely valuable. Most of his job is done behind the scenes, but he works to ensure there are no issues with construction projects on base, he preserves the history of our installations and he has saved the Air Force more than $1 million over the years. He has earned this honor.”

According to the award nomination, from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2020, Penders managed 500 cultural resources, including several archaeological sites, launch complexes and eight cemeteries. He also led six archaeological surveys saving the Air Force an estimated $480,000. Additionally, he set up partnerships with the Universities’ of Central and Southern Florida to complete archaeological surveys, excavations and artifact analysis. Those partnerships have saved the Air Force approximately $1.5 million since 2016.

“It is nice to be recognized,” said Penders, “but I just do my job.”

A job with a significant impact on PSFB, CCSFS and the community.

Through the partnerships Penders has cultivated with the UCF and the USF, he has been able to take advantage of the universities’ 3D scanning capabilities to complete a number of surveys.

“This allows us to complete most projects for free without having to hire a contractor,” Penders said.

The 45th CES cultural management team conducts a variety of surveys each year, including inspections of historical sites such as Space Launch Complex 34 at CCSFS, where the only manned Apollo launch took place at then Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Jan. 27, 1967. The team also conducts assessments of the soil and any artifacts retrieved from archeological survey sites.

Penders said he leads two archaeological excavations a year with the help of students from USF and UCF.

“The students assist with retrieving and scanning the artifacts, as well as lab analysis,” Penders said. “They collect, wash and sort every artifact we find. Over the past two years, this has led to the identification of 350 artifacts.”

Blaylock said some unique items have been found during those archeological digs, including a mercury dime from 1910, animal bones and Native American pottery between 1,000 and 2,000 years old.

The goal is to share those artifacts with the community, Penders said.  

“My hope is that with the 3D imagery we obtain from these sites, that we can make that imagery available to the public online,” Penders said. “That way people could tour old launch sites that they may not be able to tour otherwise.”

A panel of 47 judges from federal and state agencies, as well as academia and the private sector evaluated nominations from the DOD components. Out of 27 nominees, the judges selected eight winners. For more information about the 2021 SECDEF Environmental Award winners, visit