By Maj. Stacie N. Shafran
14th Air Force Public Affairs
Vandenberg, Air Force Base, Calif. — The men and women of the 14th Air Force and Joint Functional Component Command for Space welcomed a new commander with the arrival of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, who assumed command during a ceremony at Vandenberg, AFB, Calif. Jan. 21.
General Helms, who was promoted to lieutenant general an hour prior to the change of command, previously served as the director of plans and policy at U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
“The men and women who operate and defend the space enterprise are a national treasure and it is with the deepest respect that I take the flag for both the JFCC-Space and the 14th Air Force,” said General Helms.
During her speech, the general explained that 50 years ago, we looked to space as an unexplored frontier, and like other frontiers on the verge of discovery, there was immense promise and mystery.
“Now as we look back at the efforts of discovery just 50 years later, it is truly awe-inspiring to see the magnitude of what we have collectively achieved, for today, leveraging the advantages of space is as prevalent a practice as breathing the air around us,” she said.
The general, keenly aware of her new command’s impact on the warfighter, pledged continuing support.
“There are Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen in harm’s way all around the world, all of whom deeply leverage our space advantage to keep the initiative and win the fight. We, the men and women of JFCC-Space and 14th Air Force, have a moral obligation to ensure that we support the warfighter to the absolute best of our abilities.”
In attendance were the general’s parents, family and friends, as well as Erin Conaton, the under secretary of the Air Force, Richard McKinney, the deputy under secretary for space programs, Gen. Kevin Chilton, former U.S. Strategic Command commander, and Gen. William Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander.
General Helms was commissioned from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980. She has served as an F-15 and F-16 weapons separation engineer and a flight test engineer. As a flight test engineer, General Helms has flown in 30 types of U.S. and Canadian military aircraft. She has also served as project officer on the CF-18 aircraft as a U.S. Air Force Exchange Officer to the Canadian Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment.
Selected by NASA in January 1990, General Helms became an astronaut in July 1991. On Jan. 13, 1993, then an Air Force major and a member of the space shuttle Endeavour crew, she became the first U.S. military woman in space. She flew on STS-54 (1993), STS-64 (1994), STS-78 (1996) and STS-101 (2000), and served aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition-2 crew (2001). A veteran of five space flights, General Helms has logged 211 days in space, including a spacewalk of eight hours and 56 minutes, a world record. General Helms commanded the 45th Space Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla. Her staff assignments include tours at Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Air Education and Training Command, and U.S. Strategic Command.
As the commander of JFCC Space, which is a component of U.S. Strategic Command, General Helms is responsible for executing continuous, integrated space operations to deliver theater and global effects in support of national and combatant commander objectives.
As the commander of 14th Air Force, which is the Air Force’s sole Numbered Air Force for space, General Helms leads an operational mission that includes space launch from the east and west coasts, satellite command and control, missile warning, space surveillance and command and control of assigned and attached joint space forces.
General Helms assumed command from Lt. Gen. Larry James, who is now the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C.