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Face of Defense: A Guardian's Marathon Journey

Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
A smiling runner crosses the finish line of a marathon.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk crosses the Air Force Marathon finish line at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 16, 2023.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 230916-X-X1914-1004Y
Hometown: Mountain Brook, Ala.
Stationed: Schriever Space Force Base, Colo.
Unit: 1 Space Operations Squadron, Delta 9 – Orbital Warfare
Job Title: Supra Coder and Mission Planner for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP)

A common joke you'll find in the running community is that running is a fairly inexpensive hobby. All you need is a pair of running shoes, a running route and the willpower to get up and go.  

However, the minute you catch the racing bug, an inexpensive hobby can easily turn into a financial drain. Race registration, hotel and travel fees, GPS watch – all compounded by the physical cost that comes with training.  

A smiling Air Force Marathon runner holds a medal while posing for a photo.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk poses with his Air Force Marathon finishers medal at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 16, 2023. Kirk finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 57 minutes and 14 seconds.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 230916-X-X1914-1003Y
Through the Department of the Air Force Sports program, Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk found his lifelong dream of running a marathon actually was an affordable reality. He ran the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, last September. 

Kirk doesn't just put the work in on the pavement — he has a pretty hefty job, too. 

After commissioning into the Space Force in 2021 from the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Kirk didn't have to travel far for his duty station. He's a member of Space Delta 9 – Orbital Warfare at Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado. 

You had the unique opportunity of being one of the first classes to commission directly into the Space Force. Can you talk about that? 

An interesting fact about the Air Force Academy is that it has more satellites in orbit than most countries. I've always had a passion for space and cyber, but the opportunity to work on spacecraft during my undergrad was what really interested me in USAFA. That's something most college students only dream of doing during their career – I was checking that off before graduation. 

A smiling person poses for a photograph in front of boats at a pier.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk poses for a photo at a pier.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 240131-D-D0439-100
A smiling person in a military uniform poses in front of a field.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk poses for a photo.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 240131-D-D0439-400
It sounds cliché, but I've also wanted to be a part of something that mattered and made a difference. To have the opportunity to be a part of something close to its inception is also something I knew I couldn't pass up. I commissioned from USAFA in 2021 – by then the Space Force was only a year and a half old. 

What about space inspires you? 

It all started in third grade when our class was learning about the space shuttle. I found it all so fascinating! Space if full of endless possibilities and unexplored frontiers. I begged my parents for all the space books I could find. Today, new space tech is invented every day. To be a part of new discoveries is really what inspires me. 

What is your role as a mission planner for the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP)? 

GSSAP satellites operate in near-geosynchronous orbit and support space surveillance operations. They collect space situational data, which allows for more accurate tracking and characterization of man-mad objects in orbit. My role as a mission planner is to develop and execute rendezvous and proximity operations to allow spacecraft to maneuver around an object in space, enabling characterization for anomaly resolution and enhanced surveillance, while maintaining flight safety. 

Talk about your military sports experiences. 

The DAF Sports Program is the official sports program and competition hub for the Air Force and Space Force, enabling service members with superior athletic abilities to train, practice and participate in the highest level of services and international competitions. 

Two rows of people pose for a photo in front of a sports arena. Large decorative numbers reading "262" are in front of them.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk (second row, far right) poses with fellow Department of the Air Force Sports athletes ahead of the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 15, 2023. Kirk was one of 50 athletes selected to compete on behalf of the Department of the Air Force Sports program.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 230916-X-X1914-1001Y

Through an application process, I was selected to run on behalf of DAF Sports at the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio, and the T-Minus Space Force 10-Miler at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Unlike your typical race entry, DAF Sports paid for my travel and my registration. They even provided me with a team racing singlet. Through the program, I was able to achieve a long-term goal of running a marathon and it introduced me to some really great athletes and service members.  

What are your other big goals – personal and professional? 

Two people run in a field. A mountain range can be seen behind them.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk and a companion run in a field.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 240131-D-D0439-200

A big goal of mine is to run the Boston Marathon. Completing an Ironman is also high on my list. I also hope to live up to the potential that my friends and family know I am capable of. They've been very supportive throughout my USAFA/Space Force journey, even if they have no idea what I'm talking about. Professionally, at some point in my career I'd like to be a part of a mission that goes to another planet. There's so much out there for us to discover, and I hope to be a part of those discoveries. This year, I also hope to rescue a cat from a local shelter. 

A smiling person in a military uniform poses lies on a sports field.
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk
Space Force 1st Lt. Ryan Kirk poses for a photo on a sports field.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 240131-D-D0439-700

What are some of your other hobbies and interests? 

In addition to space, I love dinosaurs. I even have a dinosaur shirt and love eating dinosaur chicken nuggets. Other than that, my hobbies include coding, running, swimming, being sarcastic, reading and long walks through Costco. 

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