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News > From 'Master of the Sky' to Master of Space: 50th SW faces new millenium, new war
From 'Master of the Sky' to Master of Space: 50th SW faces new millenium, new war

Posted 7/26/2007   Updated 7/26/2007 Email story   Print story


by Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian

7/26/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The new millennium brought with it new challenges and new threats. Continuing activity resulting from the 1995 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission report resulted in the inactivation of the 750th Space Group and the 5th Space Operations Squadron at Onizuka Air Force Station, Calif., in 1999 and 2000 respectively. The inactivation of other agencies and units at Onizuka AFS left 21st SOPS as the installation's host, and the 21st SOPS commander assumed installation commander responsibilities. 

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaida terrorists launched an attack against the United States. Using hijacked commercial airliners as missiles, operatives flew three aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers challenged the hijackers and attempted to regain control of the aircraft. In all, the attacks killed nearly 3,000 people. 

In response to the attacks and the refusal of Afghanistan's Taliban government to turn over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom Oct. 7, 2001. Joining the U.S. effort were British forces and the Northern Alliance, a coalition of anti-Taliban Afghani warlords. The combined forces quickly drove the terrorists and their militant supporters from power. 

The 50th Space Wing here supported and continues to support allied operations in Afghanistan with satellite communications, GPS enhancements and deployed personnel. By 2005, the 50th SW averaged 80 Airmen per month deployed to forward operating bases supporting the Global War on Terrorism. 

Afghanistan would not be the only front in the war against terrorism. Operation Enduring Freedom included operations supporting the Philippine government against the terrorist organizations Abu Sayeff and Jemaah Islamiyah and operations against other terrorist organizations in the Horn of Africa. 

U.S. forces initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom March 20, 2003, leading a coalition of England, Poland and other nations to remove President Hussein from power and arrest him for crimes against humanity. As they had in 1991, coalition forces moved swiftly to defeat Iraqi forces and Republican Guard units, capturing Baghdad April 9, 2003. 

Again, the 50th SW played a key role. Second SOPS crews developed new techniques for enhancing GPS accuracy over the Iraqi theater of operations and flew more than 1,000 satellite sorties between March 20 and April 10. 

First SOPS set a record during this period, placing a GPS satellite in orbit and completing all early on-orbit checkout activities in only 11 days while also flying 100 Defense Support Program satellite sorties and 300 GPS sorties in the first 20 days of combat. 

Third and 4th SOPS crews maximized satellite communications coverage of the theater. The 3rd SOPS' Defense Satellite Communications System Block III satellites provided 80 percent of in-theater bandwidth. Meanwhile, 4th SOPS dedicated 85 percent of Milstar communications capability to the war effort, flying 14,000 sorties in the first 20 days of operations. 

The 50th Network Operations Group (previously the 50th Communications Group) supported all of the wing's satellite command-and-control activities through the Air Force Satellite Control Network scheduling nodes, managed by 22nd SOPS. Personnel at the wing's remote tracking stations, including 21st SOPS at Onizuka AFS and 23rd SOPS at New Boston AFS, N.H., logged more than 12,312 satellite contacts while assisting with other satellite operations and three satellite launches. 

The 50th SW also underwent organizational changes in the first years of the new century. To correct inefficiencies and realign organizations along mission lines, Air Force Space Command renamed the 50th CG as 50th NOG and reassigned 21st, 22nd and 23rd SOPS to that organization. Functions of the 850th Space Communications Squadron merged with those of 50th SCS, and the 850th SCS inactivated in January 2006.

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