COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Colorado is at the hub of Department of Defense space and missile defense operations, and the state’s National Guard members are supporting these expanding domains here.
Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, joined Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Perry, the Colorado Guard’s senior enlisted leader, June 28 to visit Airmen and Soldiers charged with these missions.
He left impressed at the “brilliance” of these Colorado Guard members.
“These Soldiers and Airmen are some of our best and brightest,” Whitehead said. “The amount of training they undergo and their level of expertise in operating complex systems that contribute to the space and missile defense missions is nothing short of remarkable.”
Air National Guard members comprise roughly 15% of the Department of the Air Force’s space professionals and serve in seven states and Guam. Additionally, Colorado has the sole space battalion in the Army National Guard.
Up and down Colorado’s Front Range — from Greeley to Colorado Springs — Air and Army Guard members provide space-based capabilities, including early missile warning, geospatial imagery, homeland missile defense and space support to ground forces.
Whitehead first visited Airmen with the 138th Space Control Squadron on Schriever Space Force Base. The squadron is one of the only deployable space units in the Air and Space Forces. It is equipped to provide combatant commanders with advanced electronic space effects – more simply, the ability to jam satellite communications.
The Air National Guard provides 60% of the Space Force’s deployable offensive space electronic warfare capabilities, according to a National Guard Bureau fact sheet.
Tech Sgt. Eduardo Cortinas, a space control operator with the 138th SCS, said his counterparts in the active component have transitioned from the Air Force to the Space Force.
“We’re managed and operated by the Air National Guard,” Cortinas said. “But tactically, we are run by the Space Force deltas. They provide guidance on the baselines of how we’re supposed to operate and how our training is supposed to look.”
Cortinas is a traditional, part-time Guardsman. He balances a military career with his civilian occupation, working for a Colorado Springs-based subcontractor that develops training programs for various space systems.
Whitehead said Guard members like Cortinas, who leverage their knowledge, skills and abilities to benefit the National Guard and their civilian employers, are part of what makes the Guard unique.
“This young man’s expertise is a huge asset to our Guard,” Whitehead said. “Conversely, his knowledge and experience translate directly to his civilian employer. It’s a win-win.”
During a deployment to Afghanistan as a space control operator in 2017, Cortinas said he felt immense fulfillment performing his mission.
“When we’re here at home, we train, we run exercises and we run simulations,” Cortinas said. “But to see the effects that we provide to friendly forces overseas and get that gratitude from them of how much they appreciated our help over there was awesome. It was an amazing experience to see the live action of everything.”
In Colorado, space is a joint effort. The COARNG’s 117th Space Battalion, headquartered on Fort Carson, operates under the 1st Space Brigade, the Army’s only space brigade, and U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
The 117th Battalion provides geospatial imagery support to domestic operations in Colorado and beyond, during wildfire and flood response missions, among others. The unit also supports warfighters in forward areas by delivering space support to troops with boots on the ground. The 117th has 12 Army Space Support Teams, or ARSSTs, each comprising six Guard members. Every ARSST is assigned to one of the Army National Guard infantry divisions.
Army space support teams rapidly deploy globally, allowing warfighters to leverage space capabilities by providing space products and expertise to field units, enhancing their intelligence and operational planning. Every ARSST Soldier undergoes extensive training and serves in a different role, based on rank and specialty, including satellite communications, intelligence, and geospatial engineering. All ARSST members provide expertise in space support operations. The 117th deploys a space support team every nine months to support division deployments.
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Cole, the 117th Battalion’s top enlisted leader, said the 117th has almost continuously deployed teams for two decades, starting in Iraq in 2003.
“Every time they deploy, we deploy with them,” Cole said of National Guard divisions. “ARSSTs are a division-level asset that support theater operations. Our Soldiers are trained and ready to provide whatever is needed.”
Whitehead also met with 100th Missile Defense Brigade Soldiers on Schriever SFB. The 100th Brigade is the nation’s only military unit defending the homeland from long-range ballistic missile threats using defensive ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
Rotating crews primarily comprising Colorado Guard Soldiers operate around the clock inside the Missile Defense Element at Schriever – known as “the node.” They and their 49th Missile Defense Battalion counterparts at Fort Greely stand ready to engage and destroy inbound ICBM threats to the United States and designated areas, a duty the unit has continually executed since 2004.
This is a mission that must regularly evolve to keep pace with threats. 100th Soldiers are involved in the research and development of the complex Ground-based Midcourse Defense Fire Control System. This system of systems relies on an array of global sensors, including assets such as the space-based infrared satellite controlled by Space Force operators at Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado.
While the 100th includes a small mix of active component Army Soldiers, most 100th Soldiers are Guardsmen. This enables them to remain in positions longer to develop expertise that becomes mastery.
Whitehead recognized one such Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Javier Solla, a future operations officer. Solla has worked in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense mission since 2009 when he left Puerto Rico to join the 49th Battalion. He moved to the 100th to work as a missile defender.
“Knowing that we are always there to take action against any situation that affects the freedom and our family’s way of life creates pride and dedication,” Solla said. “Not only to ourselves but to every U.S. citizen.”
Across Colorado, space and missile defense operators are working together to defend the homeland, support troops overseas, and help when disaster strikes at home.
“Our Guard members are at the forefront of the space and missile defense missions across the globe,” Whitehead said. “I’m so proud of these Colorado Guardsmen who contribute to these growing missions.”