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Weapons School Produces Guard Leaders in Growing Space Domain

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith,
  • National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - In the heart of Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, a select group of Air National Guard members hone their expertise at the Air Force Weapons School in the most crucial battlefront of the future: space. They master cutting-edge skills and share knowledge with the 1,200 National Guard members who help secure the space domain and oversee space operations daily.

“The [Space Weapons Officer] course is a phenomenal graduate-level program that helps shape our nation’s military space professionals into ‘humble, approachable and credible’ space weapons officers and enlisted tacticians,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Lookabaugh, an operations lead with the New York Air National Guard’s 222nd Command and Control, 107th Attack Wing. “The knowledge and skills the school imparts empower graduates to return to their home units and help build the next generation of space leaders.”

While the school also churns out leaders in air and cyber realms, its space-based portion is filled with multiple specialties, said Air Force Maj. Kyle Kelso, assistant director of space operations for the Colorado Air National Guard’s 137th Space Warning Squadron, 233rd Space Group.

He said an F-15 Eagle pilot attending the school’s air portion, for example, would be confined to learning how to use that weapon system effectively.

“But with space, we have a little bit broader portfolio than just one airframe to learn,” said Kelso, adding the program covers satellite control, missile warning and interception operations to intelligence, analysis and electronic warfare.

The details of integrating space-based capabilities highlighted at the school helped Kelso assist in developing and executing Vulcan Guard, a National Guard-based space exercise that completed its fifth iteration in August.

“The exercise scenarios are like most [Defense Department] exercises that emulate a real-world problem set we’re currently facing or that we’ll face in the near future,” he said. “We do this to provide a realistic context to the exercise and lend the participants a sense of purpose and credibility.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Ryan Colon had a similar experience. He said the school provided him with the foundation to help design ThunderMoose, an electronic warfare exercise held in June.

“Using the weapons school’s mission planning guide and the expert-level training I received, I was able to assemble a large planning team [for the exercise], helping to coordinate the full spectrum of operations, training, logistics, personnel and security,” he said. “I would not have been able to successfully lead such a large team of diverse ranks, groups and opinions without the training from the weapons school.”

Formerly with the Florida Air National Guard’s 114th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron, Colon became the first enlisted Air National Guard member to graduate from the school’s Space Warfighter Advanced Instructor Course last year.

Colon stressed the importance of identifying one’s motivation when facing the demanding six-month training at Nellis AFB.

“It is paramount to establish your ‘why?’ — on the day you apply for the school,” he said. “Otherwise, there won’t be enough willpower to keep you there.”

For Colon, this motivation extended to leaving a legacy and setting an example for others.

“I gained the credibility necessary to interface with Joint Force counterparts as a weapons systems expert, which in turn afforded credibility to the Guard as a whole,” he said. “Though I later transferred to the Air Force Reserve, I believe I left a lasting impact on other Guard members who wish to attend weapons school and excel in the space domain.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Jason Knight, deputy director of National Guard Bureau Space Operations, highlighted the National Guard’s significant role in defending the space domain for nearly three decades. He emphasized this as a prime illustration of how the Guard has enhanced global readiness and interoperability through the Defense Department National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, which pairs Guard elements and foreign military forces.

“The National Guard space operations directorate understands the necessity of bridging the space warfighting knowledge gap between our allies and partners,” said Knight. “Accordingly, we also leverage the SPP and our community of graduated space weapons officers to deliver tactical and operational-level space warfighting training to our allied and partner nations.”

Kelso added that, although state partners have achieved varying levels of advancement in their space programs, there is a universal desire to learn more.

“Like us, they understand the importance of building relationships that can lead to shared knowledge and technology and increase cooperation in the long term,” he said.

Brazil, paired with the New York National Guard as part of the SPP program, recently participated in the Vulcan Guard exercise, integrating Guard operations and intelligence personnel while running an array of space weapon systems.

Knight said Guard contributions to the space defense ecosystem cannot be overstated.

“They are the right cadre of professional space warfighters to deliver success for the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command’s security cooperation lines of effort,” Knight said.