50 SW operators to be recognized for Operation Tomodachi efforts

Following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, teams with the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons used the Tactical Satellite-3 to successfully collect time-critical imagery of the disaster area in Japan. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

By Scott Prater

Schriever Sentinel

Space operators don’t often get to see the results of their work in the spotlight.

Following the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, U.S. Armed Forces executed a disaster relief effort known as Operation Tomodachi. As part of the effort, U.S. servicemembers delivered critically needed capabilities and supplies in the aftermath of the disaster that struck northern Japan.

In recognition of the two-year anniversary of the operation, the Japanese government is hosting a U.S.-Japan friendship reception March 22 at Littleton High School in Littleton, Colo. The event will include special recognition for U.S. military personnel who participated in the operation. The Consulate General of Japan and a group of high school students from Sendai, Japan, who survived the disaster will be on hand to express their gratitude.

Schriever will be well represented at the event. More than 15 Airmen participated, including members of 1st, 4th and 7th Space Operations Squadrons.

“Satellite operators and engineers at the 50th Space Wing played an important role in the operation,” said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS commander. “Specifically, teams with the 1st and 7th Space Operations Squadrons used the Tactical Satellite-3 to successfully collect time-critical imagery of the disaster area in Japan. These images were critical in supporting the relief effort by providing unfettered overhead access to areas contaminated by damaged nuclear reactors, so relief agencies could have situational awareness even in the most dangerous locations.”

TacSat-3’s imagery capabilities were suited perfectly for the job. Senior Airman Jonathan Farill, 1 SOPS mission chief, explained that TacSat-3’s hyperspectral imager allowed users to see many different chemicals on the ground and in the atmosphere of the affected area.

“I was the mission commander on duty the day we received the tasking from the Joint Space Operations Center to begin relaying images,” said Capt. Paul Newell, 1 SOPS mission commander. “I believe it was the very next day following the disaster. We started looking for potential opportunities to image almost immediately.”

Newell said working as part of Operation Tomodachi was a unique experience.

“It was strange watching the news and seeing the devastation,” he said. “It was a good feeling knowing that we were helping provide critical effects to people in need. Normally, we don’t see the direct effects of what we do. I think we were all pleasantly surprised to learn of the recognition event.”

For 1 and 7 SOPS members who played a role in Operation Tomodachi, the event continues to stand out as a memorable moment. It’s also one operations crews continue to learn from.

“Every time I hear of a natural disaster I think about our Japan operation,” Newell said. “We had a lot of takeaways from that experience in the form of tactics, techniques and procedures, especially in the development of the satellite systems we operate now.”

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