Guam Tracking Station: A heritage of excellence

Maj. Christopher Butler is the 21st Space Operations Squadron, Det. 2 commander and is assigned to Guam Tracking Station, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Maj. Christopher Butler is the 21st Space Operations Squadron, Det. 2 commander and is assigned to Guam Tracking Station, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

GUAM TRACKING STATION, Guam -- Assuming command of Guam Tracking Station has been both an honor and privilege I will never forget. When I was first notified of being selected for command I was both overwhelmed and excited for the next leadership challenge to come. When I first arrived to the island of Guam and stepped foot into Detachment 2, 21st Space Operations Squadron, two things stood out. First was the dedicated people assigned here and second was the heritage of this great unit. Guam Tracking Station has the farthest footprint in the Pacific for Air Force Space Command as part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network. Guam, as part of the Micronesian island chain, is known as a beautiful island oasis, but its strategic importance to the nation's defense is great. GTS provides assured access to space as well as real-time command and control for launch and operation of 170 Department of Defense, national, allied and civilian satellites.

GTS first began as Air Force Satellite Control Facility, Operating Location Number 10 and was Space Command's first attempt to provide a complete command tracking and telemetry capability in a mobile facility (part of Project CORONA). Project CORONA was the first program to use a satellite to take photographs from space over the former U.S.S.R. that then dropped film canisters between Hawaii and Guam. In 1969, the mobile unit was shut down which was the start of many changes through the years. The program lasted into the late 1960s and was declassified in 1995. The effort paved the way for the AFSCN network to thrive. In 2010, GTS was re-designated 21 SOPS, Det. 2, ending a long string of 31 years as Detachment 5.

GTS has been an important part of space history since its activation on North West field, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam Sept. 17, 1965, during the Cold War. GTS has provided 365 days a year, 24/7 continuous operations. Last month, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate 50 years of excellence at GTS. The hard work and coordination needed for this event was well worth the effort to recognize the site as an integral part of the AFSCN. The overwhelming support from the local village community in nearby Yigo, Guam, and the GTS alumni who attended (some who traveled up to 17 hours to get to here) was indicative of the event's significance. Local Guam press attention, as well as 36th Wing Public Affairs coverage made the day even more special along with Team Andersen, present contractors, civilians as well as family and friends.

Today, GTS continues to have our nation's and allies' back for satellite support for early warning, intelligence, communication, weather and navigation. GTS' proud 50-year heritage, combined with the outstanding civilian and military workforce, is why I am honored to command. A few site personnel have supported the mission more than 30 years at GTS. I am just glad to be a part of it all as we prepare for future adversaries and incorporate new capabilities to ensure another 50 years of excellence. A heritage of excellence is what makes GTS the best in the network and is where "America's space ops day begins."