One of the 21st Space Wing Operations Group’s smallest geographically separated units has been the lynchpin keeping the Air Force’s Upgraded Early Warning Radar system operational.
Twenty-First OG’s Operations Support Squadron’s ’s Detachment 1, located at Beale Air Force Base, California, operates the direct training pipeline that feeds radar operators to all UEWR locations across the globe.
When most of the world was closing their doors due to the worldwide COVID19 pandemic, Det 1, with only 11 personnel assigned and seven available instructors, is racing to keep the flow of students rolling through their course so certified operators can continue turnover at the sites.
“Basically, every UEWR operator, except those stationed in the United Kingdom, will come through us before working shift at their radar,” said Tech Sgt. Nicholas Keating, 21 OSS, Detachment 1 flight chief. “Our main customer is Thule Air Base, Greenland, and our curriculum is geared towards their operations because they have the quickest turnaround for personnel, but we do train students for Clear AFS, Alaska; Beale AFB, California and now Joint Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as well.”
With the average tour length at certain remote radar locations being only a year, student operators must leave Det 1 with the ability to seamlessly transition into their role in their gaining unit.
“We have a 28-day course that covers five blocks of instruction,” Keating said. “Radar fundamentals, Spacetrack procedures, emergency faults and equipment malfunctions, site reports, and a capstone block that trains for crew operations.”
According to Master Sgt. Nadia Segovia-Spehar, 21st OSS Det 1 detachment chief, changes have been made to class operations to ensure the safety of both the student and the instructors.
“Before the pandemic, students had access to the entire facility, including classrooms and two simulator spaces”, Segovia-Spehar said. “We are limiting traffic throughout the facility and interaction between students, instructors, and 7 SWS personnel. Also, students only come into contact with one simulator and one instructor team during the course. This reduces foot traffic and promotes physical distancing inside the radar.”
Not only have person-to-person interactions changed for the students, but extra sanitary steps are taken to decrease the spread of germs for both the students and instructors.
“We have two simulators, and each class will have two instructors dedicated to it,” Keating said. “Each team will not interact with the other to limit exposure to each other. The simulators and classroom areas are sanitized after every use. During our next schedules course, we will have three classes going, so one will be on a swing. There will have to be extra cleaning every day to try and prevent the spread of any germs.”
Just as famed Italian airpower theorist Gen. Giulio Douhet said, “Flexibility is the key to airpower,” flexibility has proven to be the key to space training operations within Det 1.
“We recently had our first video teleconferencing UEWR instructor graduation,” Segovia-Spehar said. “We wanted to still recognize our student’s hard work and welcome them to the radar community. The ceremony over video wasn’t preferred but the students appreciated the gesture. I feel it was hard to get adjusted to new measures during this pandemic at first, but now the unit and students are more connected than ever before.”
The extra safety precautions aren’t just to protect the student operators that will be moving on to a radar site somewhere in the world, but also to protect the instructors getting them trained to keep that asset running.
“My job is to take care of our members and families,” Segovia-Spehar said. “This includes the students. This is our number one priority. We can’t support the mission without our instructors. Our mission is to prepare Airmen for their follow-on units and each unit plays a crucial role in the Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment Network to protect and defend the homeland.”