Two California Air National Guard space squadrons support U.S. Space Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melanie Nolen
  • 195th Wing Public Affairs

Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA -- “Welcome to Space Country” greets base visitors arriving through Vandenberg’s main gate. Located on the central coast of California, Vandenberg SFB is home to a variety of space operations, both military and civilian, and is known for lighting up the night sky when hosting a launch.

Two California Air National Guard units also call Space Country “home” while performing duties that directly support the nation’s space mission and defense. The 148th Space Operations Squadron (SOPS) and the 216th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) are both part of the 195th Wing - an Air Guard wing with a unique blend of missions encompassing space, cyberspace, intelligence and combat communications.

The 148th SOPS performs 24/7 command and control of the Milstar and Advanced EHF satellite constellation, a mission system that provides the most protected communications networks for the highest levels of the Defense Department, including the President of the United States and combatant commanders around the globe.

“We [the 148th] make sure that all of the equipment with the Milstar is running properly,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Herrera, a 148th SOPS radio frequency technician. “For any type of radio frequency that goes up to the satellites, we make sure that the signal is secure and that all of the equipment on the ground is functioning properly at the unit.”

They are an essential part of the mission because if the equipment is not working properly, the space operators are not able to do their job and the people downrange won’t have secure communications, said Herrera.

“The 216th SPCS is one of five Space Electromagnetic Warfare (Space EW) units that rapidly deploy nearly anywhere in the world to deliver flexible space capabilities in a tactical environment to support global and theater campaigns,” said 2nd Lt. Soren Dietrichson, a space operations officer with 216th SPCS. “For the 216th and the space control squadrons in general, our mission is offensive and defensive space control in space. Basically, we make sure that our warfighters and geographic combatant commanders have access to communications in space and to deny our adversaries the same [access].”

On an ever-increasing basis, space is becoming more and more contested, said Dietrichson.

The U.S. Space Force was established Dec. 20, 2019, when the National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law, creating the first new branch of the armed services in 73 years to respond to a need for a military service focused solely on pursuing superiority in the space domain.

“With the technology that our adversaries are building, it’s important for us to have a separate branch to make sure that funds are allocated directly toward [the] space [mission],” said Herrera. “We see their technology is getting more advanced and that our assets in space need more protection. To have a space force is important to maintain our dominance in space in the future.”

Without the Guard’s presence, there would be a critical vacuum that would exist in the support needed for the warfighters in this domain, said Dietrichson.

“The preponderance of the total trained force for our specialty (roughly 60%) falls within the Air National Guard,” said Dietrichson. “Throughout our ranks are people that bring invaluable, relevant expertise to the table from their work for civilian employers and from their higher education. They all provide unique experiences and perspectives that enable our unit to operate at an exceptionally high standard.”

The 148th and 216th still operate as part of the Air National Guard, supporting both state activations and federal missions, and continue to be ready for activation at a moment’s notice.

“The Guard brings value to the space mission with continuity, expertise, and reliability,” said Dietrichson. “Knowing that you have people who have been there for many years in a way that you could not have anywhere else within this mission set, makes the Guard a vital component of what we do in space in general.”