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Air Force News

First satellite-flying unit inactivated

Released: Jun 12, 1998

by Capt. Mike Richmond
55th Wing Public Affairs

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- A chapter of space history came to a close June 11 when the 6th Space Operations Squadron inactivated during a ceremony on the base parade grounds here.

The inac tivation marked the end of 35 continuous years of service at Offutt by the Air Force's first satellite-flying unit, which stood up in the early days of the "space race" with the Soviet Union. The squadron controlled the workhorse weather-satellite system of the U.S. military -- the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, known as DMSP

The inactivation has been in the works since 1994, when President Clinton directed that control of the DMSP program be passed from the Air Force to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That act officially occurred May 29 when NOAA, operating out of its Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland, Md., took over day-to-day operational control of the DMSP constellation.

Passing control of DMSP to NOAA was the first step in the eventual convergence of all U.S. weather satellites into a single system shortly after the turn of the century. The new system will be called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.

The transfer of DMSP to NOAA is an historic first, according to Lt. Col. John Hyten, who has commanded the 6th SOPS since August 1996.

"Never before has an operational military system been transferred to the control of a civilian agency," said Hyten. "But the world is changing, the military is changing, and the mission will still get done. Clearly, it's the right thing to do because of the efficiencies and economies that can be gained."

Convergence is expected to generate savings of more than $1.3 billion over the lifecycle of the new system. Still, the inactivation was a somber occasion for Hyten and his troops.

"It's hard to give up a mission that you've bled over and sweat over for so long," said Hyten, "especially considering that we did this mission better than anyone. This team of people made some amazing things happen."

Last year the squadron was named Best Space Operations Squadron and Best Communications-Electronics Maintenance Unit (small category) in Air Force Space Command. It also won top honors earlier this year at Guardian Challenge, the command's premier competitive event, a feat the squadron also accomplished in 1994 and 1995.

The irony of "going out on top" was not lost on Master Sgt. Bryan Robinson, the squadron's superintendent of operations.

"With the Guardian Challenge wins, with all the recognition of our people -- at the group level, the wing level and the Air Force level -- this has been really special," said Robinson. "This unit was a ground-breaker, the first to set up space operations in the Air Force."

Senior Airman Richard Wade, a maintenance technician on his first duty assignment, echoed Robinson's sense of loss.

"It's one thing for a unit to inactivate," said Wade, "but it's something else for one with this unit's history and pride and professionalism to do it. The mission is still going to be accomplished, but it's weird that it's not going to be done by us."

Both Robinson and Wade agreed that a small measure of consolation is found in the fact that the 6th SOPS name will live on, despite the inactivation. Because of a requirement to maintain a back-up agency for NOAA's operations, an Air Force Reserve unit will keep the 6th SOPS name alive. In October, the Reserve's 8th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., will inactivate and then reactivate as the 6th SOPS out of respect for the legacy of the 6th.

As for Offutt's 6th SOPS members, their numbers have been falling since August, and over the summer will diminish gradually, as people no longer needed for disposition of squadron equipment are re-assigned. About 30 people from the squadron will remain at Offutt in other squadrons. By September, everyone else will have been reassigned to other bases. (Courtesy of AFSPC News Service)

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