By Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The 1st Space Operations Squadron marked its 25th Anniversary during a celebration at The Mining Exchange in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Friday.
Several former 1 SOPS commanders attended the jam-packed event and included guest speaker Maj. Gen. Burke E. Wilson, currently the Deputy Principal Cyber Advisor to the Secretary of Defense and Senior Military Advisor for Cyber, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
Wilson, who served as 1 SOPS commander 15 years ago, visited his old squadron before the celebration and was impressed with what he saw.
“I was impressed seeing the growth in missions,” Wilson said. “It was clear 1 SOPS is the premier Space Situational Awareness ops unit in the DOD. It was very reassuring to see the caliber of our space operators engaged in today’s fight.”
Wilson highlighted heritage and legacy during his speech at the event.
“My first supervisor in the Air Force taught us to ‘Live in the future, and always respect the past,’” Wilson said. “In other words, it’s important for an organization to look forward and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges, and to understand and cherish your unit’s past because it will shape who you are as a team.”
The current 1 SOPS commander, Lt. Col. Casey Beard, built on the general’s heritage remarks.
“While [heritage] may not directly influence a specific task or mission, understanding the unit’s history and heritage builds a sense of pride and belonging — a subtle recognition and appreciation of an unwritten responsibility to carry on revered traditions, which can boost morale, dedication, and even performance,” Beard said.
According to Capt. Archie Johnson, 1 SOPS executive officer, bringing former commanders to the event provided historical perspective and enhanced unit members’ appreciation of their evolving mission.
“Having former commanders here is a tribute to their success, which helped make the current organization what it is today,” Johnson said. “Many commanders have stayed close to the space business and some directly in its mission area, so it was only natural to share our current success and milestones while remembering where and how we got here.”
While the unit has existed since 1961, it was designated as 1 SOPS Jan. 30, 1992. It was formerly the 1st Aerospace Surveillance and Control Squadron, 1st Aerospace Control Squadron and the 1st Satellite Control Squadron.
“At that time (1992), we were flying the Defense Support Program, the Global Positioning System and the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program,” said 1st Lt. John Canaan, 1 SOPS mission commander.
From 1989-2007, 1 SOPS commanded the launch and early orbit operations of GPS. This included satellite activation, initial checkout and transfer to mission orbit. The last 1 SOPS GPS launch occurred in December 2007, before responsibilities transitioned to the 2nd Space Operations Squadron.
Throughout the years, 1 SOPS missions and programs have varied from the Technology for Autonomous Operational Survivability program as late as 2001, to the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness program, which launched its first two satellites in 2014.
Today, 1 SOPS is Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based space situational awareness to assure access to space by commanding satellites to collect and disseminate decision-quality information and provide SSA throughout the spectrum of conflict. The squadron commands, controls and operates the Space Based Space Surveillance System, Advanced Technology Risk Reduction system and the GSSA program.
“1 SOPS has commanded a variety of weapon systems with a multitude of missions,” said Senior Airman Payton Pelzel, 1 SOPS staff instructor. “Throughout the years, we have led the way in providing desired effects to the warfighter. This would not have been possible without the exceptional leadership of the commanders honored here tonight. We look forward to many more years of excellence.”
Despite 1 SOPS evolution through the years, Wilson pointed to two things that remained the same.
“While the technology and operating environment has changed, I was proud to see the commitment to the mission and exceptional quality of the Airmen serving in 1 SOPS hasn’t changed,” said Wilson. “They continue to set the standard for others to follow.”
1 SOPS doesn’t plan on resting on their laurels, according to Beard.
“1 SOPS will continue to blaze new trails for space operations, space warfare and even national defense — our legacy is rooted in being the first, the best, and always in control,” said Beard.