3 SOPS joins Fort Carson combat training

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Story by 2nd Lt. Scarlett Rodriguez on 12/09/2016
Until the morning of Nov. 9, 3rd Space Operations Squadron personnel never would have imagined themselves charging into a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter with rifles in hand.

In a joint effort with the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron and the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, 3 SOPS experienced a first-hand, real-time view of the capabilities they bring to warfighters as they ran through an intricate training operation.

"We have a very important job, and we're always told that, but when you see that, it's totally different. If that guy's phone doesn't work, he can't call an air strike on that building," said Airman 1st Class Devin Birmingham, 3 SOPS Defense Satellite Communications System technician. "I have more appreciation for their job, and mine."

This is the first exercise of this type executed by 3 SOPS personnel. It provided an opportunity to shift mindsets within Schriever Air Force Base space operations squadrons.

In a Space Mission Force White Paper, Gen. John E. Hyten, former Air Force Space Command commander, stressed the need for all space forces to maintain space superiority and continue to grow and adapt to the changes constantly occurring in space. One of the adaptations is to cast away the "support in space" mindset and focus on their role as warfighters.

"Our space forces must demonstrate their ability to react to a thinking adversary and operate as warfighter in this environment and not simply provide space services," said Hyten. "If we do not adopt this transformation quickly, we will lose our competitive advantage in space and jeopardize our ability to successfully confront adversaries in all domains."

To facilitate this transformation, 3 SOPS sought out this "boots on the ground" training to witness how space operations directly translate into combat effectiveness.

"That was kind of the idea," said Capt. Zachary Ritter, 3 SOPS Training Flight commander. "To translate what we do here and see the realized combat effects."

The real-life aspect of what space is providing other warfighters is often lost on the space operators who make it possible. Ritter hoped the exercise would help them internalize the weight and importance of their work.

"The old mindset was I'm supporting the mission, but really I'm sitting in this room with no windows flying a satellite 22,000 nautical miles away.' Well no, we're making sure that users have constant communication, and that they can pull down satellite imagery for battle damage assessment, the air tasking order, and other mission essential communications in Pacific Command theater for example. That's what we're actually doing," said Ritter.

3 SOPS gained perspective and newfound passion for its work due to the field exercise. In addition, it provided the opportunity to work in cooperation with the 13 ASOS and 4 ID.

"I'm just doing my job, and it's kind of hard for me to see, in person, what all that entails. So when I see a Tactical Air Control Party Specialist guy radioing in on a chopper and he's doing a five-line for an air strike it's super cool," said Birmingham.

The White Paper also stressed the need for space crews to be pushed out of their comfort zones utilizing training crafted towards their development.

"We're trying to get our guys into a more warfighter, or space-warfighter mentality by sharing experiences with the traditional close-air-support warfighter," said Ritter.

On Nov. 18, 3 SOPS will return to Fort Carson to brief the airmen and soldiers who ran the operation to share their knowledge on military satellite communications. The space capabilities briefing also includes subject matter experts from the 2nd Space Operations Squadron and 2nd Space Warning Squadron to cover GPS and Overhead Persistent Infrared.

"We're compiling the information useful to their mission set and explain why space is important to them," said Ritter. "They understand some of it, but they'll also be more aware of what tool they have available to them."

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