Civilian Leaders Gain Appreciation for U.S. Space Capabilities
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Aug. 20, 2004 A trip inside the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center highlighted an intensive look by civic leaders from throughout the United States into how the U.S. military is using the skies and space to protect the homeland against terrorism.
The civilians, all alumni of the Defense Department's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference program, traveled here this week to learn about the critical role the skies and beyond play in homeland defense.
The Joint Civilian Orientation Conference introduces civilian "movers and shakers" to the military so they can return to their hometowns to share their insights with their neighbors and business associates. This is the fourth meeting of former participants, designed to keep them up-to-date about developments with the Defense Department and "reenergize them" so they will continue to serve as ambassadors for the military in their communities, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Chet Curtis, program director.
During the first day of their alumni conference, group members traveled to Schriever Air Force Base, "the only all-space Air Force base," according to Col. Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of the 50th Space Wing.
At Schriever, the group received briefings on Air Force Space Command, 50th Space Wing, whom Vautrinot called "the best satellite flyers in the world," the 3rd Space Operations Squadron, and the Space Warfare Center.
"Space is the ultimate high ground," Maj. Lisa Bomberg, from Air Force Space Command, told the group, explaining the importance of space for military operations: communication, weather assessments, navigation, precision targeting, intelligence and battle-damage assessments, among them.
At the 3rd Operations Squadron, the civilians listened to airmen describe how they "fly" 13 Defense Satellite Communications System III satellites. These satellites provide the backbone of national military communications, explained Lt. Col. Keith Hinson, squadron commander, providing secure voice and data transmissions for strategic and tactical forces worldwide.
Staff Sgt. Derrick Thompson, one of the squadron's satellite system operators, admitted that the work is generally behind the scenes, out of the limelight. "But if I can't do my job and see my satellites, ground troops won't have communication," he said. "So I feel that I'm doing a big part of the Air Force's mission here."
Group members took their seats at consoles in the NATO Skynet office, where squadron members keep seven NATO satellites operational so they can provide dedicated military and diplomatic communications for the United States, NATO and the British Ministry of Defense. At the end of the session, each civilian leader was presented an "honorary operator" certificate.
At the Space Warfare Center, group members learned about efforts to "bring space to the fight" -- the center's motto -- by developing and testing concepts, equipment and procedures that maximize the use of space for military operations.
During lunchtime briefings at Peterson Air Force Base, the group learned about U.S. Northern Command, established in October 2002 to defend the American homeland and coordinate military support to civilian authorities, and North American Aerospace Defense Command, charged with aerospace warning and control for North America.
Later in the day, the group traveled to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, where they toured the Air Warning Center and industrial area and watched U.S. and Canadian troops working side by side to monitor the skies for sign of an attack against North America.
"We have one mission, one goal, one fight," Maj. Dave Patterson, public affairs officer, told the group. "And we're one team."
Air Force Maj. Sara Karcha explained that the Air Warning Center's mission has expanded dramatically "and gotten far more complicated" since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, in addition to focusing on external threats, NORAD monitors the skies within the United States with equal scrutiny, she said.
At the end of the day, the civilian participants said they were impressed with what they saw. "It's been one of the most informative trips I've ever been on," said Jennie Finman McIntosh, a partner in Arose, LP, a family-owned limited partnership in Mississippi.
"A fascinating trip," agreed Sunny Park, CEO of General Building Maintenance and Global Sun Investments in Atlanta and founder of the Good Neighboring Foundation. "It's amazing to see that we not only control the ground, but we also control space. It's a powerful thing."
Mort Rahimi, vice president of information technology at Northwestern University, said he was impressed with the military's transition from specialized to off-the-shelf hardware and software systems to carry out its mission. Not only does this save taxpayers money, Rahimi said, it also ensures more reliable and user-friendly systems.
But Rahimi, like other group members, said he was most impressed by the men and women behind these systems, charged with protecting the homeland.
Col. R. Kent Traylor, vice commander of the Space Warfare Center, said he was hopeful that the visit would give the civilians a better understanding of the role of space in their lives and the importance of protecting it.
"I think it's really important for people to understand that we are increasingly dependent on space -- not only for military capabilities, but for civilian purposes, too," ranging from pagers to ATM machines to pay-at-the pump gas operations, explained Traylor. "That way, they'll have a better appreciation of the need to protect what we have and to further advance our capabilities in space."