SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 50th Space Wing’s space endeavors began after the Air Force Space Command ordered the activation of the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing as the 50th Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado, effective Jan. 30, 1992. The 50th absorbed the personnel, functions and facilities of the 2nd Space Wing, which inactivated on that date. Col. (later Lt. Gen.) Roger DeKok served as the last commander of the 2nd Space Wing and first commander of the 50th as a space wing. In its first years at Schriever, the wing oversaw the final operational transfers of systems from California centers to the newly completed Consolidated Space Operations Center. While accepting turnover of the CSOC, the wing expanded its mission and support functions, opening the base’s first Consolidated Base Personnel Office in 1992 and welcoming the activation of the 4th Space Operations Squadron to operate the planned Milstar satellite communications system.
The base’s continuing expansion in the 1990s required additional support functions and the 50th grew, gradually minimizing its dependence on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, for support functions. Contracting and comptroller organizations activated under the 50th Support (later Mission Support) Group and the wing. The 1990s also brought the first round of Base Realignment and Closure Committee actions affecting the wing. Some functions transferred from the wing’s Onizuka Air Force Base, California, and added facilities and personnel to the wing at Schriever. Ten years later, additional actions resulted in the closure of the California base and the movement of the 21st Space Operations Squadron and its mission to Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, California. The wing also oversaw the expansion of the installation, as additional lands were obtained to create a buffer around the installation that precluded encroachment, a significant issue at Onizuka AFB, and enhanced security. The 310th Space Wing, the first and only space wing in the Air Force Reserves, stood up as an additional mission partner, joining the 50th in almost all mission areas.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the wing responded to the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, providing combat effects to forces around the United States and the world. By October 2001, as U.S. and allied combat forces engaged Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, the wing developed new techniques and procedures to ensure the highest levels of capabilities to forward forces. This was not an unusual activity for the wing, as its personnel had provided combat capability to forward forces since its first deployments supporting Desert Shield.
Meanwhile, the wing’s organization for network operations and communications systems underwent a number of changes. Activated in 1997, the 50th Communications Group inactivated a few years later, before activating again June 1, 2002. The group redesignated 50th Network Operations Group on March 10, 2004 and gained the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Space Operations Squadrons from the 50th Operations Group. In the years following, the group continued to realign functions and responsibilities to streamline operations and improve operational effectiveness and efficiency.
The first decade of the new millennium brought more growth and increased mission responsibility to the 50th Space Wing. Advanced satellite systems—the Advanced Extremely High Frequency and Wideband Global SATCOM programs added new requirements to the wing’s mission. New, advanced Global Positioning System satellites ensured the wing operated the most robust positioning, navigation and timing system available, as crews and engineers developed and implemented measures to allow the wing to operate an expanded constellation. The wing broke ground for base housing in 2008 and opened its first units in 2010. Again, as in the past, the wing’s innovation and demonstration of excellence in all mission areas led to multiple awards, including the Omaha Trophy for Global Operations.
As the second decade of the 21st century began, change and challenges remained constant. Fiscal constraints contributed to Air Force Space Command’s decision to inactivate the Space Innovation and Development Center and to distribute its subordinate units to other organizations. While much of the SIDC was reassigned to Air Combat Command, the wing gained the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron as a component of the 50th Operations Group. The 3 SES operated experimental and pathfinder systems, adding a new dimension to the wing’s portfolio. The Air Force also continued to increase the wing’s systems, deploying a total of eight WGS satellites and, by 2016, launching 12 advanced GPS Block IIF vehicles.
The 50th Space Wing is unique in the Air Force. No other wing operates the number or variety of satellites commanded by crews of the wing’s satellite operations squadrons. The wing also operates and maintains the Air Force Satellite Control Network and its operating locations around the world. The men and women operating those systems rely on hundreds of others to provide personnel, financial, facilities and other essential support functions. However, the wing does not fulfill those roles alone. Wing personnel rely on the 21st Medical Squadron, the 310th Space Wing, other mission partners at Schriever AFB and units at Peterson AFB, as well. Call them “Team 5-0.” Call them “Team 460.” Call them “Team Schriever.” Whatever you call them, you can always call them “Master of Space.”
Editor’s note: This is the second article of a two-part series highlighting the 50th Space Wing history.