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Colorado Air National Guard space warriors fight COVID-19

By Maj. Kinder Blacke, 140th Wing Public Affairs | April 17, 2020

Since Colorado Gov. Jared Polis activated the Colorado National Guard to join the fight against COVID-19 March 10, 2020, space warriors of the 233rd Space Group have been on the front lines, assisting civil authorities and augmenting critical space missions.

More than 10 percent of the Colorado Air National Guard’s space force has stepped in to help in whatever capacity possible to support the community’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Out of the relatively small 233rd Space Group, based in Greeley, Colorado, 21 members are providing direct support to both the citizens and civilian leaders of our community, U.S. Air Force Colonel Michael Bruno, commander, 233 SG, said.

“We have filled every request for support so far,” Bruno said. “Our members want to be in the fight.  They want to support our community, and they want to assist their neighbors.”

One of those space professionals who stepped up to assist on the front lines is U.S. Air Force Maj. Andrew Gold, a missile warning crew commander, currently acting as the liaison officer to the City and County of Denver’s Office of Emergency Management.

Gold ensures there is proper communication and coordination between the emergency operations center and the CONG leadership at Joint Forces Headquarters.

Gold helps coordinate the efforts of over 130 CONG members who are supporting task forces focused on various missions around the state.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen are providing support to emergency operations centers in several counties spread out all over the State of Colorado,” he said.  “Additionally, some of our members are supporting the effort to shelter citizens experiencing homelessness who are either high-risk for COVID, have tested positive, or are presumptive positive for COVID-19 in the City and County of Denver.” 

In support of this mission, known as Task Force Shelter Support, CONG members are helping in ways far from what they are accustomed to, explained Gold. “Instead of fighting wild fires or rescuing people from blizzards, we are distributing meals, conducting health and wellness checks, and supporting the homeless with other things of that nature,” he said.

“This unique situation requires a very innovative and unprecedented response,” Gold said, “and the National Guard is helping develop and implement that response in support of our civil partners.”

At one of the shelter locations, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Skogen, first sergeant for the newly established 138th Space Control Squadron, 233 SG, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, said he recognized how he and his fellow space professionals could make an impact.

“We saw areas where we could improve efficiency, mainly in food delivery,” Skogen said. “We’ve gone down from almost an hour and a half to get 140 people fed, to closer to 30 minutes, so we’re really improving the efficiency and helping to keep this operation running smoothly.”

In addition to providing manpower to the task force efforts, space warriors are involved in planning and logistics at all levels.

An emergency manager with over 14 years of experience, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rene Hernandez, a space warrior in the 233 SG, is working in the emergency operations center in Jefferson County. Hernandez is part of the information section where they collect and analyze information to help support current and future planning operations.

“We work collectively with other support agencies’ subject matter experts from throughout the community to analyze the current situation and provide planning for the best possible mitigation,” he said. These other support functions include everything from public health and law enforcement to flood specialists, public affairs, and everything in between, he explained.

“If a county needs something, we, as representatives from our various fields, can put our heads together to figure out what we need to provide… SMEs (subject matter experts), equipment, resources, information management, for example… to be able to best mitigate the situation,” he said. “We all want to do what we can to help and it truly requires a team effort.”

While a significant number of space warriors are serving on that team alongside civilian counterparts in the community, other space professionals have dedicated themselves to ensuring our nation’s critical space missions will continue without fail.

One of those missions is located at the Greeley Air National Guard Station, the 233rd Space Group’s mobile ground system. “We are maintaining our alert posture, working closely with the 460th Space Wing at Buckley Air Force Base, to ensure uninterrupted missile warning for theater and homeland defense,” Bruno said.

There are a few dozen essential members at Greely ANGS who play various roles in ensuring the success of their unique 24/7 space mission including defenders, operators, cyber professionals and logisticians.

“Everyone is doing their part as safely as possible,” U.S. Staff Sgt. Dakota Long, a mission essential defender of the 233rd Security Forces Squadron, said. “A lot of individuals are nervous to see how this pandemic will continue to develop over the next few weeks or even months, but the mission is still our main priority.  Our service is vital to the capabilities of the U.S. Air Force.”

As the situation has evolved, Long said: “We have adjusted our safety procedures as well, wearing proper personal protective equipment and maintaining six feet between each other at all times.”

Healthy space professionals are critical to being able to continue the mission at GANGS, as well as across the USAF.

“With the depth of talent in the 233rd Space Group, and the unique fact that our space units are spread across the Front Range, the active duty Air Force has called on our space warriors for augmentation,” Bruno said.

“Members of our 137th Space Warning Squadron are serving on North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Mission Capability Preservation Team to help ensure continuity of operations for NORAD’s no-fail mission,” Bruno said.

There are also space professionals currently providing mission essential training to both active duty and Air National Guard Airmen in the Space Electronic Warfare community at PAFB.

Furthermore, in order to preserve the health and minimize exposure of critical members of the 460th Space Wing mission, 233 SG and 140th Force Support Squadron (services) members have been cooking four hot meals a day for 30 active duty personnel at Buckley AFB, Bruno said.

“I could not be more proud of the men and women of the 233rd Space Group,” he said. “Everyone has stepped up and done their part. They are some of the most ingenious Airmen in the military, developing plans to maintain our critical mission readiness, while at the same time maintaining the health and safety of themselves and their teammates.”

Positivity, connectivity and resilience continue to permeate through the COANG space community, Long said. “We will continue to adapt to the ongoing trials and tribulations that may be ahead of us.”

Despite the challenges already surpassed and those yet to come, these space warriors echoed the same sentiments.

Skogen said: “This is what we signed up to do. We’re supporting our families, our communities, our state, and our nation. This is what makes being a Colorado Guardsman important – being able to assist whenever and however needed.”