By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — She saw an opportunity and took it.
Staff Sgt. Kesa Wood, 16th Space Control Squadron NCO in charge of current operations at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, won the inaugural Airman/NCO division of the 2016 Gen. Bernard A. Schriever Memorial Essay Contest.
The purpose of the annual contest was to stimulate thought, discussion and debate on matters relating to how the Air Force and Air Force Space Command provide space and cyberspace capabilities for the joint force and nation. It is sponsored by the Lance P. Sijan Chapter of the Air Force Association.
The theme for both the Airman/NCO and open divisions was: A contested space environment will require a warfighter mindset in our Airmen. What are the immediate and long term challenges and solutions to adapt to a warfighter mindset?
Wood did not simply submit her entry to address the theme, but for another reason as well.
“I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if we could have an NCO voice for a big Air Force question,” said Wood.
It is difficult for space operators to adopt a warfighter mindset when they are so far removed from the actual battle and tangible results of their efforts, she said. Regular discussion about what is taking place in battle — through sources like intelligence briefings — can help increase awareness of the role space operators play in the fight, even at a distance.
“It’s an almost daily reminder you have to give yourself since you are not on the front lines,” Wood said.
Helping intelligence providers understand the space operator job can go a long way in seeing the warfighter mentality become more prevalent among those who join the fight from great distances. Intelligence briefings would have more impact and meaning to space operators if those groups understand precisely what the operators need, she said.
“Space operators would like to know more about the impact they have on the end result,” said Wood.
For space operators like Wood and the people she works with, it is easy to get into a rut. Doing the same things day in, day out can lead to complacency, she said. In her essay, Wood noted that space situational awareness is a relatively new mission area and space operators have struggled to replace a passive mindset with the more active one of the warfighter.
“Being more present, knowing what one is attacking or defending, and caring about the outcome are all qualities that a space operator of the future needs,” Wood said.
Morale is important in the transition to a warfighting mindset. In her essay, Wood wrote that strong, positive leadership contributes to a solid workforce as the space mission unfolds into the future.
Winning her division in the Gen. Bernard A. Schriever Memorial Essay Contest was certainly a boost to her morale. Wood said she was elated and humbled when she received word her paper was selected as the winner.
“I was excited,” she said. “My paper reached out and made someone think.”
Essays were judged based on three criteria: quality of written expression, quality of argument, and degree of currency and relevancy. Winning entries in the Airman/NCO division received $500 for first place and a plaque. Air Force Space Command reserves the right to publish the winning essay online.
Dave Shiller with the Sinjin chapter of the AFA said he thinks solid research and her personal perspective are what tipped Wood’s entry into the winner’s circle.
“We wanted to hear from junior Airmen and first termers,” he said. “Some of whom may not feel comfortable entering the open division given their less experience in many cases.”
In Wood’s case, they got that and more all because she saw an opportunity and took it.