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Wing conducts 1st COOP exercise

Airmen with the 50th Space Wing return from a deployment as part of the Opinicus Vista 16-1 Exercise Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. For the first time in the wing’s history, Team 5-0 executed a no-notice continuity of all the operations centers transfer, enabling crews to perform operations at their backup facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes)

Airmen with the 50th Space Wing return from a deployment as part of the Opinicus Vista 16-1 Exercise Thursday, March 10, 2016, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. For the first time in the wing’s history, Team 5-0 executed a no-notice continuity of all the operations centers transfer, enabling crews to perform operations at their backup facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- For the first time in the Master of Space's history, the 50th Space Wing conducted a no-notice continuity of operations exercise as part of Opinicus Vista 16-1 at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, March 6-11, 2016.

Led by the Inspector General office, the exercise evaluated the wing's ability to transfer and maintain its mission at a forward location.

"If something happens here, we still have to get the mission done," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremey Hazelwonder, IG wing exercises section chief. "If we lost all our operational capability here, we would have to go to our backup location and be able to setup within a certain amount of time and be able to do the primary mission again."

Although the exercise was a wing-wide effort, the COOP was intended for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 22nd Space Operations Squadrons, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron as well as the 50th Space Communications Squadron. Overall, the wing deployed more than 80 personnel in support of the exercise.

The impetus for this type of exercise came from Col. DeAnna M. Burt, 50 SW commander. She requested an exercise to see how the operational units would respond to a no-notice COOP activity and if they could meet their response times.

"It's a huge undertaking, especially doing it no-notice; it was definitely a very good assessment of the wing's capability," said Lou Fischer, IG inspections director.  "We had to find a way to trigger the event here through our scenario, which would force them to go to their back up locations and operate. The whole exercise was geared toward having that trigger event and seeing how the wing responds to that."

One of the biggest challenges the wing met was the logistics, which included prioritizing which mission should be stood up first, identifying the essential personnel, transporting them as well as providing lodging. The 50 SW members actually went to Vandenberg, Kirtland and Tinker Air Force Bases to stand up their backup locations.

According to the IG office, the exercise highlighted the wing's importance, not just in the Air Force but the Department of Defense as well.

"If you look at the impact Schriever has from what our system supports, such as GPS, it's far-reaching, Fischer said. "If we don't have the ability to execute our mission, we have worldwide impact. We need to make sure we have that continuity of operations. Schriever can't be a single point of failure; we need to have a redundant capability."

Although this was the first exercise involving continuity of operations, the wing performed well beyond expectations.

"We did it faster than anyone predicted we could," Burt said on a base-wide email congratulating the wing. "The herculean efforts across all three groups as well as wing staff to quickly get our crews to their backup facilities was truly impressive.  I want to thank all the military, civilian and contractor personnel who participated in this exercise and proved what this wing can do."

Fischer stated there were some initial issues getting the deployers out the door, however, that may be attributed to the timing of the exercise, which was on purpose.

"Kicking off on a Sunday evening and trying to arrange transportation after hours was challenging, but they overcame those challenges," he said.

For now, the wing is working through the relocation planning aspect to ensure a smoother process. All the units are taking those lessons learned to improve their system.

Moreover, the wing as well as the whole installation should expect a much more robust exercise in June, which will include an emergency management exercise.

"This will probably be the biggest exercise I've seen since I have been stationed here. It will test every aspect of this base," Hazelwonder said.
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