4 SOPS mobile team takes flight

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Senior Airman Hans Houser was just finishing laundry and getting ready for bed when he received a late-night call.

“Exercise, exercise, exercise, this is a recall for all mobile members, report to the DOM Bay,” the person on the other line said.

He instinctively hopped up to quickly ready his uniform and bags. Three years of training with the 4th Space Operations Squadron mobile team prepared him for this moment. 

Houser entered the 4 SOPS mobile loading bay together with dozens of space operators, engineers, maintainers, security and support augmentees where they awaited a briefing to fully understand what was about to happen. 

After the security doors clicked, the chatter died down. 

It was time.

The team was to execute a mobile space operating contingency mission in a peacetime environment outside the continental United States. Their destination--an undisclosed location in Hawaii.

“We chose Hawaii because we were looking for a site we haven’t really pre-surveyed to prove we can operate anywhere in the world at any given time. It’s a proof of concept (for) us,” said Lt. Col. Sherman Johns, 4 SOPS commander.

This does not happen every day, nor every year for that matter. The last time the mobile team executed a contingency mission was more than eight years ago.

“We have a new mission platform here that has never done anything like this,” explained Capt. Paul Karsten, 4 SOPS Mobile Operations Flight commander. 

The squadron controls Milstar and Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite constellations, a highly protected military satellite communications network. 

Most of 4 SOPS’s operations support tactical users, such as Army and Marine Corps forces operating down range in need of secure communications. In the event of a nuclear war, the mobile team must be ready to transport their Advanced Ground Mobile satellite operations center and Low Profile Antenna assets to another location to continue running military satellite communication operations. This means they must be able to continue operations anytime, anywhere around the world.

During this mission however, the exercise scenario depicted a satellite not operating in accordance with the rest of the constellation. The mobile team was responsible for reeling it back into the fold.

“In the event of a crosslink breaking and a satellite being all by itself, we will deploy out and provide cryptographic rekeys for (users) to be able to log on to the satellite to use it as needed,” explained Karsten.

After learning their mission, team members dispersed to begin transport. 

According to Senior Airman Zane Balcer, 4 SOPS DOM technician, daily preparation for deployment is a crucial component for the 4 SOPS Mobile Flight.

“We make sure everyone has the right paperwork, everyone’s up to date with their training. In the event that we do need to deploy, we are all ready to go and not scrambling at the last minute,” said Balcer.

That preparation was evident, as teammates coordinated and prepared equipment and vehicles for convoy. Others reported to the armory to retrieve weapons and protective gear for the assets. 

Houser, dual-hatted as a mobile EHF operator as well as the weapons manager, ensured his team was fully equipped. He makes sure the needed weapons are issued as well as looks after the maintenance.

“All the cool stuff,” he chuckled.

With go-bags and all equipment prepared, the crew set out on a tightly coordinated convoy to the flight line.

To say this was a big project is an understatement.

The AGM is a full-sized semitrailer that contains the AEHF Satellite Mission Control Subsystem and Advanced Antenna Calibration Facilities Interim Command and Control terminals. The LPA fully functions with all the capabilities of a traditional large-scale antenna. 

Both of these assets needed to be loaded onto a C-17 Globemaster III. Skilled drivers maneuver the AGM within an accuracy area of just a few inches. The clockwork process of loading immense assets onto the colossal aircraft required all hands on-deck. Once all equipment was ratcheted and chained down, the mobile team took flight.

During the journey, team members rested on mesh seating and make-shift cots along the edges of walls and floors while the trailer took up most of the open floor. After landing, the crews again worked together to off-load in the tropical humidity of an island more than 3,000 miles away from home station.

Armed 4 SOPS security augmentees guarded the assets while transporting them to the operating location. From this point until the end of the exercise, the mobile space operating machinery would not be left without the protection of several weapons qualified 4 SOPS mobile members, day or night.

Senior Master Sgt. Charles Shurchay, 4 SOPS superintendent, explained the big picture of why it’s vital for mobile space operators to have advanced security training to protect the assets.

“We have adversaries who want to weaken space assets and weaken our ability to project global power. For us to be able to do this enables our operators and the national command authorities to take action against those adversaries regardless of whether or not they limit our capabilities to command on the Milstar satellites,” said Shurchay.

The mobile team was called to be “Semper Gumby” because of their flexibility during all aspects of the exercise. Security augmentees stayed vigilant throughout damp, sweltering days to warm, rainy nights. Space operators constantly monitored and responded to events within the control center.

On the last day of the exercise, the mobile team left the same way they arrived, returning to Colorado carrying precious cargo. 

“It feels like we have the readiness. Additional training may be needed to get everyone up to speed, but I feel like everything we’ve been training for, this has paid off tremendously,” said Balcer.

Team Schriever members may not fully understand why 4 SOPS has a flight that needs to be able to deploy in a minute’s notice. 

“We do have good support, but (the mission) is not very well-known. On Schriever, people know there are trucks, but they don’t really know what we do, day in and day out. If others knew what we were doing, they would see the big picture of what 4 SOPS and the mobile mission is in of itself, and how it integrates to the rest of the warfighting capability,” said Karsten.

Houser, is one of several young mobile team Airmen, averaging 22 years old, who are responsible for the maintenance, operations and protection of the mobile assets. While the operations tempo is high, Houser believes the reward of the responsibility remains higher.

“It’s a truly exciting mission and you always learn something new because of the many moving parts of the mobile mission,” said Houser. “There’s a sense of pride in what you do, and for me, it’s all about seeing the end results. Being in mobiles, you get to see the end of your work.”