By Scott Prater
John Baldwin, a weapons and tactics evaluator for the 22nd Space Operations Squadron, sat at his desk this past March thinking something drastic was about to happen. He knew squadron leadership faced a difficult predicament. Two of the squadron’s training flights needed a commander, but with no influx of officers ready to assume control, they needed to find a solution quickly.
Ultimately, Lt. Col. Aaron Gibson, 22 SOPS commander, turned to Baldwin, who as it turned out, already held a clear vision for the squadron’s Operations Support and Weapons and Tactics flights.
22 SOPS controls the Air Force Satellite Control Network, a collection of 15 ground stations located around the world. Through the AFSCN, squadrons in the 50th Operations Group, as well as scores of other military and civilian users, communicate with their satellites.
“The only caveat is that an AFSCN ground antenna can only support one satellite contact at a time,” Baldwin said. “Most missions have multiple satellite vehicles. Add the fact that we support communications for vehicles in geosynchronous and low-Earth orbit as well as mid- and high-Earth orbits and it’s easy to see how things can get complicated. The AFSCN schedule is organized by time and antenna. Given the number of users, satellites, orbital paths and requests for contacts, it’s an extremely complex schedule.”
Schedulers in 22 SOPS develop those schedules. And those schedulers are trained by the 22 SOPS Operations Support Flight. The flight also trains 22 SOPS crew commanders and crew chiefs, while the squadron’s Weapons and Tactics Flight evaluates the schedulers, crew commanders and crew chiefs, as well as the training they’ve received in house.
“It’s even more important for us to perform well when you consider that we provide the entirety of the training every crew commander, crew chief and scheduler receives,” Baldwin said.
Back in March, Gibson temporarily combined the two flights under Baldwin.
“We started off with a self inspection and noticed that while one of the flights was running smoothly, the other had some problems,” Baldwin said. “We paid a lot of attention to the under performing flight and it took some time to get the right people involved as well as gain the understanding and buy-in from the flight members. Eventually, we ended up rebuilding our training program.”
The results couldn’t have turned out better, according to squadron leaders.
Maj. Bryan Dutcher, 22 SOPS director of operations, explained that despite extreme resource constraints, Baldwin and his team improved 22 SOPS mission capabilities as well as the organization as a whole, which feed the improving-the-unit and managing-resources, two of the Commander’s Inspection Program’s four major graded areas.
“Baldwin accepted responsibility of two flight commanders and oversaw four critical mission areas,” Dutcher said. “His leadership ability and strict attention to detail allowed 22 SOPS to create a system of checks and balances between the in-house training and evaluation programs. Without his efforts, 22 SOPS could not have effectively managed the squadron’s unit qualification training and certifying process to bring new operators online who support our 29 users.”
Baldwin’s time as a double flight commander will come to an end soon as resource challenges appear rectified, but he said he relished the experience and he knows the squadron is more capable following his tenure.
“When you’re just an evaluator sitting at your desk focusing on the task at hand, you’re not aware of all the things going on in the squadron,” he said. “So, you don’t have to deal with it. Since March, I’ve learned a lot about leadership, decision making and the system as a whole.”