By Staff Sgt. Matthew Coleman-Foster
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 50th Space Wing’s Geographically Separated Units furthered their vital world mission, building on connections and missions this past year.
In Feburary, Ka’ena Point Satellite Tracking Station celebrated 59 years of service in space operations. The tracking station, located on Ka’ena Point above Keawa’ula Bay, Hawaii, is one of eight Air Force Satellite Control Network sites enabling satellite command and control use for launch and on-orbit operations to more than 185 Department of Defense, allied and civil space systems.
In April on the other side of the country, the 23rd Space Operations Squadron showcased their readiness racing to neutralize a simulated active shooter threat for an inspection and short sprint exercise at New Boston Air Force Station, New Hampshire.
Airmen on the installation exhibited their professional response to the simulated emergency and quick acclimation to active shooter lockdown protocols.
“This is the first time we have done an exercise in conjunction with an inspection,” said Tech. Sgt. Martin Howard, section chief of wing exercises with the 50th SW Inspector General’s Office.
Security forces personnel were able to gain control of the simulated active shooter incident in a short amount of time, demonstrating professionalism and readiness.
“The exercise portion of our visit was important,” said Capt. Joseph Villapando, then wing exercise program manager with the 50th SW IG. “New Boston AFS is in a class of its own when you are talking about geographically separated units. They don’t fall under another base for exercises like our other GSU’s, they are responsible for conducting their own exercises.”
Keeping spirits light, the 23rd SOPS, defeated the 6th Space Warning Squadron in the annual New England Space Cup, a golf tournament at Highfields Golf and Country Club in Grafton, Massachusetts, May 9, avoiding taking home an ugly rug, a “hideous” symbol of defeat for the event’s losers.
According to tradition, the rug must be prominently displayed in the losing squadron’s director of operation’s office until the next year’s tournament.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Holmes, 23rd SOPS commander, highlighted the value of such an event for his squadron and cohesion between the units.
“Working as a team is vital to the success of the squadron,” Holmes said. “Participating in sporting events is a good way to learn how to work as a team and carries over into the work environment. We are able to compare notes and build a relationship that will benefit us in the future.”
In the summer, Ka’ena Point recognized members for heroic acts of service within the community.
Two members from Detachment 3, 21st Space Operations Squadron, at the tracking station earned the Air Force Civilian Award for Valor, at Ka’ena Point, July 23.
Nearly two years ago, Jason Fukumoto, electrician, Detachment 3, 21st Space Operations Squadron and Robin Albios, heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialist, Det. 3, 21st SOPS, risked their lives to save a member of the state of Hawaii’s volunteer field crew.
On Sept. 15 2016, three members of a volunteer field crew were clearing an area near KPSTS to prepare for game bird season at Kuaokala Game Area, Hawaii. While spraying herbicide, the field crew discovered a small patch of grass burning underneath their vehicle.
David Yingst, a member of the field crew, jumped out of the vehicle to extinguish the fire while the other two crew members moved the vehicle to a safe area. Yingst attempted to control the fire, but the fire extinguisher stopped working.
Fukumoto and Albios were driving along the perimeter of the station when they came across the field crew. While they assisted the two state workers in the vehicle, Yingst collapsed from the smoke before he could reach the designated rally point.
After discovering Yingst was left behind in the fire hazard, Fukumoto and Albios ran into the fire area to help Yingst.
“Our first instinct was to help someone out,” added Fukumoto. “It was something I hope anyone would do.”
The fire was contained and extinguished resulting in no casualties or property damage.
“Two years ago, they made a lifesaving decision. They didn’t wear capes or an iron suit, but they did step up to help someone in need,” Lt. Col. Wade McGrew, 21st Space Operations Squadron commander said. “Thanks to them, loved ones are out there who don’t have to ask themselves ‘what if’”.
The 50th Network Operations Group spent 2018 successfully supporting more than 20 U.S. national and commercial space launches, alternating between 21st SOPS at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and the 23rd SOPS Eastern Vehicles Checkout Facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida, ending 2018 with 29 supported launches — three more than in 2017.
50th NOG also delivered more than 160,000 satellite contacts garnering a 99.1 percent mission success rate through $6.8 billion Air Force Satellite Control Network command and control operations
The year closed out with the launch of the first GPS III satellite at 8:51 a.m. Dec. 23 from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral AFS.
The Lockheed Martin-built satellite, known as “Vespucci,” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas were named, was carried to orbit aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corporation Falcon 9 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle.
“Launches are always a monumental event, and especially so since this is the first GPS satellite of its generation launched on SpaceX’s first National Security Space mission,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for space. “As more GPS III satellites join the constellation, it will bring better service at a lower cost to a technology that is now fully woven into the fabric of any modern civilization. It keeps GPS the gold standard for positioning, navigation and timing information, giving assured access when and where it matters. This event was a capstone, but it doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re going to run a series of procedures for checkout and test to ensure everything on Vespucci functions as it was designed.”
Heading into 2019, the 50th Space Wing’s GSU’s continue to make their mark by providing critical information to the warfighter throughout the world and in space and cyberspace warfighting realms.