Commentary by Lt. Col. Dawn Githens
Advanced Space Operations School commander
In my 17 years of active duty, I don’t recall a time where the Air Force was more dependent on the Total Force. With two on-going wars and a reduction in contractor support, the Air Force has become much more reliant on our civilian and reserve work forces.
As a new commander, I was interested to see how my unit’s active duty, civilians, reservists and contractors worked together to get our mission done. This past weekend was my first glance at that work force in action and I was more than pleased to see, at least in my unit, this new team is working together seamlessly.
The Advanced Space Operations School was previously one of two professional schools under the National Security Space Institute. In 2009 the two schools separated to form two separate units, the NSSI and ASOpS. The NSSI teaches the badge-awarding Space 200 and 300 courses under Air University and ASOpS teaches 13 more focused advanced training courses under Air Force Space Command. Before the schools split, AFSPC and Air Force Reserve Command joined together to establish a reserve associate unit, the RNSSI, to support the growing need for advanced training and continuing education. Today, the RNSSI is chartered to support both schools as part of the 310th Space Wing.
Most of us are familiar with the contributions our active duty, civilians and contractors play in supporting our mission; however, I think less are familiar with our reserve roles. When I was previously assigned to the Space Innovation and Development Center, I had the pleasure of working with another RAU under the 310th, the 14th Test Squadron. So I am familiar with what each distinct group brings to the team; however, I’ve never worked in a unit that had both.
ASOpS is a relatively small unit with a big and diversified training mission, hence our reliance on the Total Force. We are responsible for providing advanced, senior leadership, and deployment training for our space professionals and space familiarization training for non-core space professionals. We graduate nearly 1,600 students a year to include active duty, reserve and civilian members from the Air Force, Army and Navy, as well as students from five coalition nations.
Within ASOpS, our active duty members keep us in touch with current military operations. Our civilians bring long-term continuity and depth of space experience. Our reserve work force fills specialties, such as rated pilots and provides a direct conduit to the latest and greatest technologies coming out of industry. Add in our contractors who are hired to provide specific specialties for each individual course, and the end result is a powerhouse of ASOpS instructors.
This last weekend was a unit training assembly weekend where our reserve associate unit supported the school Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday, something they do at least once a quarter. This created the perfect opportunity for me to see how they support our team as a whole.
Take for example Maj. Nathan Englehardt, whose entire military service evolved around missile operations and defense and whose civilian job is instructing for the Missile Defense Agency. This past weekend he updated much of our Advanced Missile Warning and Defense Course curriculum with new “state of the industry” information and his annual tours are spent teaching our course in the Distributed Mission Operations Center for Space, another key unit under the SIDC.
Lt. Col. Blair Thompson, who has a PhD in orbital mechanics and works with NASA in his civilian job, spent Friday morning as an acting squadron commander receiving exercise outbriefs from students of ASOpS’ Advanced Orbital Mechanics course. Other members of the RNSSI spent the weekend teaching our Operational Test and Evaluation course to their reservist counterparts in the 14th Test Squadron.
Our civilians also play a major role in our mission success. Mark Ryals has been working with the NSSI and ASOpS for several years in various capacities and was recently hired as our dean. Linda Miller, our training manager, identifies trends in instructor certifications and capacity gaps. This past weekend, both Ryals and Miller spent their days supporting the course directors for four classes we now have on-going. Their vast experience and long term continuity in these positions are critical to ensuring smooth and continuous mission success.
In fact, this past weekend was filled with many similar stories. What I came to realize was that my mission cannot be done without the entire team of active, reserve, civilian and contractor personnel. I also know that the mission is linked to the overall skill level of our entire space professional force. So in a way, what I truly began to appreciate this weekend was that our entire force is much more effective because of its Total Force team.