By Dottie White
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In keeping America safe, the sun truly never sets on the Soldiers of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
As the Army’s proponent for space and ground-based midcourse defense and the operational integrator for global ballistic missile defense, USASMDC/ARSTRAT oversees a number of elements around the globe.
One of these elements is the 1st Space Brigade which provides 24-hour satellite communications support and early missile warning around the world. In the Europe and Pacific regions specifically, 1st Space Brigade has two primary space support missions, according to its leader.
“One is enduring and the other is on call,” said Col. Eric P. Henderson, 1st Space Brigade commander. “Forward stationed units such as Joint Tactical Ground Stations, or JTAGS, and Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Centers, or WSOCs, live day in and day out within these areas. They are a part of the tactical, operational and strategic community providing early missile warning and satellite payload control.
“Additionally, deployable units such as Commercial Imagery Teams and Army Space Support Teams, residing within the brigade, stand ready to deploy on short notice to support operational plans to units that reside in these two areas of operations,” he added.
There are definite technical skills that are required of Soldiers assigned in these two areas of responsibility.
“These Soldiers must be proficient in both operational and maintenance areas of expertise,” Henderson said. “Soldiers with innate leadership and unflappable demeanor are the norm within these mission areas.”
Although no more important than an infantry or quartermaster unit, Henderson proudly described his unit’s mission as unique.
“There is no ‘2nd Space Brigade.’ We are a one-of-a-kind organization with a vast global area of influence,” Henderson said. “The Soldiers, civilians and contractors on my team, do not have the luxury of ‘taking a knee’ while someone else or some other Soldier performs the mission that is ours.
“We are the provider of trained and ready space and missile defense forces for this command,” he added. “It is not a mission that is taken lightly.”
Another element of the command, the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense), is responsible for providing trained and ready missile defense forces to the commander of U.S. Northern Command in support of his mission to defend the homeland against ballistic missile attacks.
“We do this by operating key command and control nodes in Colorado, Alaska and California 24/7/365 with highly trained and certified Soldiers,” said Col. Gregory S. Bowen, commander, 100th MDB (GMD). “In addition to operating the GMD system, the 100th is responsible for protecting and securing the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. The military police from Alpha Company 49th Missile Defense Battalion conduct the security mission 24/7/365, enduring all of the weather extremes the interior of Alaska has to offer.
“Finally, the 100th is a force provider for the AN/TPY-2 (Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance) radars,” he added. “These radars provide fire control data to the GMD system as well as supporting regional operations in several geographic combatant command areas of responsibility.”
Bowen says that being the only missile defense brigade in the U.S. military brings distinctive challenges.
“The rest of the Army does not understand what we do or how we do it,” Bowen said. “Most Army units train, deploy and perform their mission, then return home and reset. In contrast, the 100th is essentially deployed in place, executing its wartime mission 24/7/365. We never get the down time, and as a result, we don’t ‘fit’ well into what the rest of the Army is doing.
“Certified GMD operators are a very scarce commodity; at any given time, there are about 75 Soldiers certified to operate the system,” he added. “Managing the careers of these low-density specialists is one of the critical challenges we face.”
Bowen said the training and mastery of the system are paramount as this is a no-fail mission.
“Beyond the tactical and technical skills you would expect the Soldiers to have, they must display a high level of commitment to the mission,” Bowen said. “We have a very demanding certification program which the GMD operators must complete every six months in order to remain qualified.”