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Serving in the Air Force 8th SWS style

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Did you know that a large percentage of the 460th Space Wing's operational mission is conducted by Guardsmen and Reservists? Air Force Space Command's newest wing, the 460th SW was designed out of the Total Force approach from the ground-up.

This construct makes the 460th SW unique among other AFSPC wings due to its designed concept of operations and composition of active duty, Guard and Reserves under one roof.

For example, the Colorado Air National Guard's 137th Space Warning Squadron conducts 100 percent of the wing's mobile missile warning mission. And the Air Force Reserve Command's 8th Space Warning Squadron conducts 20 percent of the day-to-day Space-Based Infrared System operations for its active duty sister unit, the 2nd Space Warning Squadron. The 8th SWS is also responsible for covering up to 100 percent of the additional SBIRS surge manning requirements when called upon.

This is not to say that the older AFSPC wings have not been busy forging a Total Force over the last decade. In fact, this relatively new "Space Total Force" concept is a trend in high demand and demonstrates yet another great way to serve in the Air Force and in the fascinating field of space operations.

For the 8th SWS and many Reserve and Guard components like her in AFSPC, the Reserve Associate Unit concept is elegantly simple.

About one-third of the 8th SWS is made up of active duty Reservists who conduct daily SBIRS operations, maintain proficiency and manage the typical unit programs, training and overhead one would find familiar to an active duty squadron.

The remaining two-thirds is made up of traditional part-time Reservists who, at a bare minimum, drill two days per month and up to 15 additional days per year on their annual tour. The traditional Reservists are trained and maintained at the same level of proficiency as the entire active SBIRS force. They are flexibly postured to immediately respond to graduating degrees of activation from short-term, 460th SW peacetime needs to a full Presidential call-up during national emergencies.

So what does all this bring to the fight? One impact is a significant reduction in operational overhead to maintain a wartime capability.

Another is the creation of a cadre of active and part-time reserve professionals who go on to become a dependable source of experience, continuity, wisdom and expertise as the active duty force turns over in much faster assignment cycles.

Also, it just so happens that most 8th SWS part-time operators have civilian jobs in the space field and bring a wealth of knowledge and state-of-the-art perspectives to the entire SBIRS team.

Finally, the 8th SWS has the luxury of picking its entire roster through a very rigorous vetting process which is closely coordinated with 2nd SWS.

So it's simple, relatively cheap and makes good common sense, right? Sure. Is it easy to pull off? No way.

It takes a tremendous sense of "Service Before Self" from our citizen soldiers to maintain such a high state of instant readiness or "Excellence" in a very complex mission system.

On the weekend, the folks are trained to death. First, it's monthly mission training, using the exact same products and simulators used by our active duty brothers and sisters. Often, since drill periods normally fall on the first weekend of the month, the 8th SWS relishes being the "shakedown" cadre for all the SBIRS monthly training products.

After that multi-hour pounding, it's off to all the administrative races. Ancillary training, commander's call, threat briefings, meetings and self-inspection programs are jammed in before 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

But that's not it. The troops still need to pull their monthly proficiency shifts. In the end, that "one weekend per month" motto really equals four days per month as a minimum.

As stated earlier, the 8th SWS is here to flex and surge to meet a demanding 460th SW schedule. It's not uncommon to see our part-timers inside the fence Monday through Sunday, day shift, mid shift or swing shift.

The demands are rewarded with one enduring trait the 8th SWS has proudly developed since 1999. That is the sense of belonging to a "Family of Professionals."

Intrepid commitment is one thing. But it would never come together as well as it does without the formidable integrated relationship and genuine feeling of ownership the 460th SW has for its entire Total Force.

We consider it the highest tribute of all when we hear at every level of the 460 SW, "...the only way you can tell any difference between active duty and Reserves is that sharp red spider patch our reserve folks wear."