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Eglin squadron officially becomes part of U.S. Space Force

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

EGLIN AFB — Less than a year after the U.S. Space Force was established as the sixth branch of American military forces, more than 30 officers and enlisted personnel with the 20th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) at Eglin Air Force Base have been sworn in to the new service.

During the recent swearing-in ceremony, squadron director of operationsr Lt. Col. Michael Wilson called creation of the Space Force "a pivotal moment in U.S. military history."

Creation of the Space Force comes almost three-quarters of a century after the Air Force was established as a separate service within U.S. military operations, a landmark that also was recognized by Wilson in remarks included in a news release from Team Eglin Public Affairs.

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"Much like how the creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947 marked a national dedication to the development of air power, the birth of the U.S. Space Force echoes the same dedication to space power through unencumbered development of space professionals and capabilities,” Wilson said.

1st Lt. Conner Thigpen, 20th Space Control Squadron crew commander, receives his new blue name tapes after joining the U.S. Space Force during a recent swearing-in ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base. More than 30 officers and enlisted military members from the squadron were among the first to join the new military branch.

The historic nature of the creation of the Space Force, and its inclusion of the 20th SPCS, also were noted further down the chain of command at the September ceremony during which the squadron personnel became part of the new service.

“I am extremely honored and humbled to be one of the founding members of the U.S. Space Force,” 1st Lt. Conner Thigpen, a 20th SPCS crew commander, said in the news release issued last week through Team Eglin Public Affairs.

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“The military provided me with an incredible opportunity," Thigpen continued, "and I am excited to continue my service to the nation by protecting U.S. and allied interests in space.”

In addition to being sworn in to the new service in the September ceremony, the new Space Force personnel received the uniform insignia that will differentiate them from the Air Force and other services.

Instead of the spice brown color used for name tags and other insignia on Air Force uniforms, Space Force uniforms use blue thread. In addition, Space Force members wear a full-color American flag patch on their uniform sleeves as opposed to the muted brown likeness of the flag on Air Force uniforms.

A dedication monument, unveiled during the AN/FPS-85 radar's 50th anniversary ceremony last April at Eglin Air Force Base Site C-6, symbolizes the five decades of operations that have been conducted at the site by the 20th Space Control Squadron. The squadron recently became part of the newly created U.S. Space Force, the sixth branch of the U.S. military.

According to the Eglin news release, the unit will get a new squadron designation as it transitions into the Space Force. That designation is "in development and will be released in the near future," according to the release. 

The 20th SPCS, the only space weapons system unit at Eglin, operates a phased-array radar — which can detect and track objects in space without the need for rotating an antenna — at the sprawling base's Site C-6 near Freeport. Its location makes the 20th SPCS the only active-duty military unit operating in Walton County. Walton is one of three area counties, along with Okaloosa and Santa Rosa, that host the base and its expansive test and training ranges

The 20th Space Control Squadron, which has most of what the Department of Defense calls the nation's "space situational awareness assets" has had that designation since the early years of this century, after its beginnings a half-century ago as the 2nd Surveillance Squadron.

In this 2019 photo from Eglin's Site C-6, an Air Force officer explains how thousands of small antennas at the site are combined to create a radar signal strong enough to detect even small objects orbiting Earth. The 20th Space Control Squadron, which operates the radar, recently became part of the newly created U.S. Space Force.

Broadly, the squadron uses a global network of systems to identify objects in space and provide intelligence in support of U.S. and allied efforts to control the space domain, in terms of identifying space debris and hostile targets that could threaten U.S. and allied interests.

A car drives past the large phased-array radar at Site C-6, part of Eglin Air Force Base. The radar, which can detect an item the size of a basketball thousands of miles in space, is operated by the 20th Space Control Squadron, which recently became part of U.S. Space Force.

In addition to its operations at Eglin, the 20th SPCS comprises military and civilian airmen and contractors operating space detection and tracking systems across the globe.

Beyond Eglin, the squadron operates deep-space surveillance equipment at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico; at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean midway between Africa and Australia, and at Hawaii's Maui Space Surveillance Complex.

The squadron also operates the Space Fence, which can track objects as small as a marble in low Earth orbit, from both Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, and the U.S. Army Garrison at Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The 20th SPCS had been part of the Air Force's 21st Space Wing, which is among the units that have been deactivated as part of the transition to the nation's sixth military service. The squadron now is part of the Space Force's Space Delta 2, headquartered at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base.