By Master Sgt. Kevin Williams
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Feb. 2 marked the 20th anniversary of the 3rd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever. To celebrate their history, several 3 SOPS alumni came out to join the festivities and reflect on past successes.
The day began with a mixer followed by a tour. Throughout its 20-year history, 3 SOPS was located in Building 400, but recently moved to Building 300. Alumni were able to see its new location. The day was supposed to be capped off by a dining out where past and present members of the squadron were to gather in celebration this milestone. However, severe winter weather forced them to postpone the event.
Col. James Ross, 50th Space Wing commander and projected keynote speaker for the dining out, is also a 3 SOPS alumnus from 1991 to 1993. He served as chief UHF F/O evaluations and chief UHF F/O launch readiness.
“It is a tremendous honor to be the keynote speaker for this historic occasion,” said Ross. “I remember my time with 3 SOPS with tremendous pride. My experiences there really broadened my horizons and professional development. To see where 3 SOPS was and where they are now shows an incredible progression that derives from the truly dedicated men and women, past and present, who are part of the 3 SOPS family.”
The gathering of former members of the 3 SOPS family, including past commanders, brought together a history that fills the current commander with a huge sense of pride.
“We have a legacy of excellence achieved by the men and women doing the operations, sustainment and support,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Mortensen, 3 SOPS commander. “That cadre of officers, enlisted, civilians and contractors has provided a legacy of support to the warfighter that, in my opinion, is unmatched. That is why I believe we are first in space communications.”
Mortensen said they set up an alumni page through social media and were overwhelmed with responses from people who were previously assigned to his squadron. He received several e-mails from individuals reminiscing about their time in 3 SOPS.
One former member, Col. Mike Brantley, Multinational Operations Division Joint Staff chief, who is currently stationed at the Pentagon, attributed his time in 3 SOPS to his successful career.
“I am a former 3 SOPS member back in the ‘95-’98 timeframe,” said Brantley. “I served as a (Defense Satellite Communications System satellite vehicle operator) for about a year and a half before going up to the group as an evaluator. I look back on my 3 SOPS days very fondly and know it propelled me to even greater success in the years to come.”
Past 3 SOPS commanders who attended the celebration are retired Brig. Gen. Mark Owen, retired Colonels Michael Dickey and David Tobin and retired Lt. Col. Susan Asher.
“You will never fully appreciate the duties you have and the capabilities you provide until years later when you reflect at the awesome things you achieved and the awesome capabilities you delivered to people in harm’s way,” said Mortensen. “You may have, in doing something that was a routine part of your job, saved a life that day.”
Mortensen reflected on his previous assignment with 3 SOPS and how things have changed, while responses to certain situations are the same.
“I was here as a young captain and I remember getting that call at 2 a.m. from our British counterparts because one of our NATO Skynet satellites suddenly had an anomaly,” he said. “I remember him saying, ‘Oy mate, satellite ABCD is now yours,’ and then he hung up. Then we look at the telemetry and we find we have a problem with our attitude control system. We had to call the engineers to get it fixed right then. It’s that heat-of-the-moment of identifying problems, solving them and providing capabilities to the warfighters so they can do the incredible missions around the world.”
While 3 SOPS marks its 20-year anniversary at Schriever, its lineage goes back 72 years to May 1941 as the 3rd Photographic Squadron at Maxwell Field, Ala. Throughout the many name and location changes, the deactivation in 1947 and the reactivation in 1990, Mortensen sees 3 SOPS as a significant contributor to warfighting efforts around the world.
“Now with WGS, we enable so many capabilities that the warfighter takes for granted,” he said. “Whether it be (unmanned aerial vehicles) or global broadcast system and other capabilities … that is why we are first in space communications because combat affects are delivered here.”
As 3 SOPS boasts a proud history, the way ahead for the squadron reveals a few changes. Mortensen believes those changes will enhance the wing’s mission and overall effectiveness.
“What the next 20 years holds is yet to be determined,” said Mortensen. “However, given budget constraints and the need to operate in a more effective and efficient manner, it calls for a new way of doing business. One of the wing priorities is an integrated operations environment. Three SOPS is taking a leading role with integrating the operations environment. Schriever AFB’s (military satellite communication) community will join together on a single ops floor conducting operations and providing combat affects to warfighters around the world. We will work with 4 SOPS in the integrated operations environment process. Our forces will join together to perform operations together in a very concerted and coherent manner.”
First Lieutenants Nick Sietsema and Kristina Stewart worked countless hours putting the heritage celebration together, including the dining out. Being among the newer members of 3 SOPS, they definitely feel the pride that exists in their squadron.
“It’s been an incredible 20-year history of excellence,” said Sietsema. “We keep revolutionizing SATCOM operations and continue to build on our prestigious legacy.”
“I’m excited to meet all the alumni who started the heritage we celebrated today,” said Stewart. “Hearing war stories and experiences from past members … it builds pride and camaraderie.”
Mortensen couldn’t agree more.
“My pride in the unit runs deep,” he said. “I bleed 3 SOPS red.”