The Colorado National Guard held a ceremony last month to recognize the establishment of an inaugural unit as part of the defense department’s plan to expand into the space domain.
The 138th Space Control Squadron, led by Air Force Lt. Col. James Reeman, is responsible for providing global space electronic attack capabilities in support of global and theater campaigns, according to a press release. During the stand up ceremony, the commander leaned on a more recognizable Navy analogy to describe the vital role of the unit’s personnel.
“When they commission a ship, all the people who are a part of that process are plank owners or plank holders,” Reeman said. “They actually own a plank, because each of the members participated in the ship’s construction. Our members really were a part of this process and should be proud to think of themselves as its plank owners.”
Such planks are at least three years in the making, as the Air Force Space Command noted the need for a dedicated space control squadron in 2016 before receiving congressional authorization last year. Federal recognition of the 138thcame in May as part of the 233rd Space Group, 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard.
“Right away, as soon as we got the authorization on manning, we started hiring both full-time and drill-status Guardsmen,” Maj. Stephanie Myers, director of operations, said. “We quickly started to grow.”
And not a moment too soon, as the 138th joins only three other space control squadrons in the nation.
“In a contested domain scenario, an adversary wants to not only deter our ability to wage war, but also affect our citizens,” Reeman explained. “That capability [to affect civilians] certainly exists, and is one reason there is so much emphasis on protecting our [space control] capabilities.”
But what is space control exactly?
It’s a question the new unit commander fields regularly. Envision, he says, all the aspects of American life that rely in some way on electronic signals: our vehicle’s navigation systems, card readers at gas pumps and ATMs, cell phones, etc. If an enemy wanted to seriously throw a wrench in the United States’ commerce, trade, communications and even weather tracking, disrupting our “space” by blocking or scrambling our electronic signals would be an incredibly effective way to do it.
But Reeman and Myers add their squadron is staffed with leading-edge technology experts who are incredibly good at their jobs. Nearly 100 airmen staff the squadron in eight different specialties including cyber specialists, radio frequency technicians and space operators. And when they need to, they can work together as “electronic warfighters” to defend U.S. systems.
Myers has been a space operations officer for more than 15 years. She says the squadron is a quality mix of “existing Guard members who wanted to take on the challenge of standing up a squadron” and “brand new recruits straight out of high school.”
Each airman of the 138threceives training at Vandenberg AFB, which covers crucial elements of space control like basic orbital mechanics and satellite control. And just as foundational is the civilian link between the space and technology fields and national defense goals, Reeman said. Many squadron members also work at employers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and other space- and technology-related companies.
“What we’re able to do is take innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers who have civilian expertise and leverage that to work for the Air National Guard on a part-time basis,” he said. “We’re pretty selective about who we hire, but it’s exciting to be able to build that team and get them ready to be space warfighters.”
“Get them ready” is a key phrase, as decades ago, space control didn’t truly exist.
“Space for the past couple of decades wasn’t really seen as a contested domain,” Reeman says, mirroring how oceans used to be viewed as belonging to everyone. “But now, people can develop technology to make it not as available to everyone who needs it.”
It’s the prime reason why the new squadron now exists, as Myers predicts the squadron “is going to deliver an expertise and longevity in space control” that will long outlive her tenure.
For now, personnel are working in temporary offices aboard Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while waiting to break ground on a permanent facility this upcoming winter or spring. Reeman describes his team as being on “the leading edge of being space warfighters.”
Myers agrees, pointing especially to the engineering and technology students who have joined the squadron and the expertise they bring.
“The 138th is going to bring a breath of experiences that help us look not only at what we have now and how can we apply it in new and different ways. … but how can we keep learning and advancing in ways that put us at the forefront of space control,” Myers added.