Peterson AFB - May 16, 2001
Cowboys have to know how to rope and brand a steer to ride the range. Space cowboys have to know about launch trajectory, satellite apogee and boosters to ride the space range.
The Interservice Space Fundamentals Course, held in Colorado Springs, Colo., 11 times a year, is training the next generation of "space cowboy." The idea is to create airmen, soldiers, seamen and Marines who will be literate in the language of space operations, launch and satellites at an introductory level.
With space becoming less a Buck Rogers fantasy and more a common, unseen necessity of everyday life, the need to provide some fundamental knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of space-based assets has become urgent. This course seeks to take this basic information out of the labs and secret meetings and give it to the person who needs it -- the warfighter on the ground.
"Space is relevant for the warfighter today. Most don't realize that," said Army Maj. John Graham, director of interservice space education for the Det. 1, 533rd Training Squadron, based at Schriever AFB, Colo. "If we rely on a small cadre of space professionals alone, then we can't touch every aspect of the warfighter. Our course goes to the lowest echelon. The warfighter knows the questions to ask to enhance his capabilities."
The two-week course bombards the 15-to-20-member class with presentations from instructors and guest experts in orbital mechanics, satellite operations, launch vehicles (both U.S. and international), space law, missiles and missile warning, Global Positioning System, space communications and so on.
"There's about 45 people every year who the entire military trains and graduate to be 'space experts'," Graham said. "Compared to the size of the services, that's not a lot. Here, we graduate about 500 people a year from every service of every rank from an infantry battalion radio operator to a three-star general."
It's not so much a change of philosophy as an introduction to arcane terms that separates the space worker from the "ground pounder."
"We're teaching a space common language here," the major continued. "When our students hear the terms DSP, SBIRS, nadir and apogee, now they know what the other person's talking about. The first week we aim for 'martini knowledge' level.
"That's if there's a mention of some space-related topic while you're having a martini in a bar. You can talk about it with just enough expertise to impress everyone around you. Of course, after the second week, it goes beyond martini knowledge because our students become space cowboys -- experts."
Jack McGarry, a contracted Navy instructor, thinks the objectives are twofold.
"Our essential objectives are firstly to raise awareness of space operations in the general military," he said. "We're talking about some sophisticated systems that the average military person isn't aware of. And, secondly, when you provide basic understanding of space operations, they begin to appreciate how they contribute to success of military operations.
"There's significant value added when a student graduates who's familiar with various space systems and enters into a space billet. Shortly thereafter, many of our students influence current and future space operations. So it's incumbent on us to let them do their job intelligently."
McGarry said that people are realizing that having a working knowledge of space is essential in today's military workplace.
"In a computer age, you're at a disadvantage if you don't have a background in computers," he said. "If you work in space operations, you are at a disadvantage if you don't know about space."
After the course, many of the students' eyes are opened to the potential and limitations of space. They drop their "Star Trek" perceptions of what space is about. In many cases, they are surprised at what they're told.
"One of our students' misconceptions is that the United States has some sort of defense against a missile attack. We don't," McGarry said. "They're also unaware of the cost and time it takes just to place a vehicle in space. It's surprising to them. It all has a ripple effect throughout the military. Everyone should know more about the systems in space because everyone supports the warfighters, either directly or indirectly."
The fundamentals course, along with its sister class, the Interservice Space Intelligence Operations Course, is usually held in a business park in downtown Colorado Springs. The location is ideal, according to Graham, who said the Springs area, with Peterson, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and many space high-tech industries nearby, is "Space Central."
The area is rich in experts who can speak from working first-hand with space. Although they prefer to teach in the Springs, the class is able to go "on the road" with a scaled-down four-day version for organizations and units unable to attend, such as Air University at Maxwell AFB, Ala., or the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
The joint-service nature of the courses somehow helps the curriculum instruction go smoother in both the fundamentals and the intelligence courses, according to Armelia Snyder, the intelligence course director.
"The joint atmosphere helps it flow," she said. "They [students] all have very different levels of experience that they bring to the class. It's not specific to one force and jointness is in keeping with the military philosophy of 'Train like we fight; fight like we train' because they'd all be working together in conflicts."
Staff Sgt. Andy Coleman, the fundaments course director who coordinates the tours and instructors, said the beauty of the course is its simplicity.
"We've broken it down in logical patterns so that it's easy," he said. "The students learn how they fit in the big picture."
A recent graduation provided some enthusiastic reviews for the class.
"I didn't know what to expect when I came to the course. Only 10 percent of what was covered was known to me. The rest was new," said Army Maj. Robert Link, a group signal officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Carson, Colo. "We work all the time with space assets from the ground in our job, and now I better understand the orbital mechanics of why we have coverage at some times and not at others. It's a better understanding of space down to the ground."
"I didn't know a thing about space when I came here," said Senior Airman Shari Epley with the 21st Space Wing Operations Support Squadron. "Now I have a better understanding about the sites we have to service logistically. It's an excellent course."
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