6th SOPS celebrates 15 year anniversary as DMSP back up

  • Published
  • By Col. (ret.) Mark Hustedt
  • Former 310th Space Wing vice commander
The Defense Metrologic Satellite Program has one of the richest histories and legacies of any satellite program. Birthed in a cloak of secrecy in the early 1960s, DMSP has provided timely national priority-one environmental intelligence for well over half a century.

Originally operated out of Strategic Air Command's backyard at Offutt AFB, the 4000th Satellite Operations Group was formed, and would later be renamed the 1000th SOG. The organization had two, dedicated Command Readout Stations located at Washington's Fairchild AFB and at Loring AFB, Maine. When the Air Force eliminated each CRS, the 1000th SOG was redesignated to its namesake today: the 6th Space Operations Squadron.

It is a unit highly decorated and recognized for its contribution of timely information that has undoubtedly been utilized in almost every major military operation to date. A significant event took place in the mid-1990s as a presidential decision was made to transfer and merge DMSP from the Department of Defense to the Department of Commerce with its series of similar programs, under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, such as both the Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite and Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite.

The DMSP primary operations center would be located in Suitland, Md., where NOAA "flew" its family of weather satellites. Air Force Space Command mandated a backup facility be identified as part of the transfer. This situation would bring about the 7th SOPS, a newly activated squadron, and would be the Air Force Reserve Command's first and only Reserve Space program, operated from Schriever. It was activated to primarily augment the GPS and Defense Support Program missions flown by AFSPC's 1st SOPS.

Having early heralding success from the 7th SOPS, the reserves were one of three entities considered to operate the DMSP backup facility. After lengthy studies, AF leaders chose AFRC to be the recipient for the DMSP backup facility. Since the 6th SOPS was still an active duty AF unit and targeted for deactivation, the newly-designated 8th SOPS, AFRC's second reserve space unit, was born.

The 8th SOPS had no intention of letting the nearly 40 years of rich military history disappear. Upon selection as the "hot" backup to its parent organization in Maryland, agencies rallied to plan, organize and construct the presidentially-mandated, cutting-edge facility at Schriever.

Critical personnel were hired for the newly-formed reserve unit and they worked diligently with Falcon AFB (now Schriever AFB) personnel, the program office and NOAA personnel to meet stringent timelines. As a former 6th SOPS and 310th Space Wing commander, I was humbled to be the project lead and since then, have always believed it "was a highlight of my life." The backup DMSP operations center was unique in that it would have the capacity to perform every facet of operations. Employed by highly-skilled reserve space personnel, it was designed to have the ability to take over primary operations for a minimum of 72 hours without augmentation with a very short response time.

Upon the official AF active duty 6th SOPS deactivation, AFRC did not hesitate to immediately reclaim the famed name by deactivating their own 8th SOPS and re-designating it to the 6th SOPS. And thus, in 1998, the history and legacy of this highly-decorated program would proudly live on under the auspices of AFRC's newly formed 310th Space Group. By the dedication and hard work performed by so many, the DMSP hot backup was planned, constructed and christened on time and on budget. Following demanding test and evaluation, the squadron was granted an "initial operational capability" status on Jan. 24, 1999 with laudable results. The unit even received the Secretary of Defense Facilities Excellence Award one short year after opening its doors.

Because of this program's age, legacy and impact it has had on so many, it's hard not to encounter someone in the community who hasn't had some kind of relationship with this treasured and emotionally-charged program. Imagine the conversation between two DMSP Airmen; one from the 1960s and one of today. Ironically, the mission is the same but the means of how we perform and exploit it are dramatically different. And yet, that bond between the generations exists and few satellite programs can boast it.

At a point in time when it looked like this incredible space legacy would disappear into the history books, a 30-person reserve unit arose to eagerly and proudly keep the DMSP heritage alive. Today, with 50-plus years of operational legacy, AFRC's 6th SOPS celebrates its 15 year anniversary serving as the program's hot backup, providing more than 62,000 hours of national priority data. Their dedication and rapid response to meet the nation's environmental intelligence needs proudly mirror those of their counterparts of years ago.

They and the missions they contribute to daily continue to provide great relevance to our armed forces and a myriad of civilian agencies.

(Editor's note: Col. (ret.) Mark Hustedt served as the wing's vice commander from September 2008 to December 2011. Hustedt now serves as the Employer Outreach Chair for Colorado's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization.)