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19 SOPS honors 'Aces of Space'

The 45th Space Wing supported the U.S. Air Force's twelfth launch of a Boeing-built Global Positioning System IIF satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 here Feb. 5 at 8:38 a.m. EST. GPS is the Department of Defense's largest satellite constellation with 31-operational satellites on orbit. (Photo by ULA)

The 45th Space Wing supported the U.S. Air Force's twelfth launch of a Boeing-built Global Positioning System IIF satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 41 here Feb. 5 at 8:38 a.m. EST. GPS is the Department of Defense's largest satellite constellation with 31-operational satellites on orbit. (Photo by ULA)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The term "Ace" became popular in World War I to describe pilots who had destroyed five or more enemy aircraft. Later, the term was adopted for hot shots of both ground and underwater warfare: Ace of Tanks and Ace of the Deep, respectively.  Enter the Aces of Space-- 19th Space Operations Squadron men and women who've participated in five or more Global Positioning System launches. 19 SOPS is the Reserve associate unit to the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, who together operate the GPS constellation as Team Blackjack.

The squadron has supported 27 GPS satellite launches during the past 15 years, culminating with the GPS IIF-12 satellite launched Feb. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Altogether, 31 of their space operators have worked five or more launches, eight of whom are Aces twice over, with four triple Aces participating in 15 or more GPS launches. Sixteen of those personnel are still active in the unit.

"I've supported satellite launches as a civilian prior to enlisting in the Reserve. However, the depth of experience, expertise and teamwork demonstrated by both the contractors and military personnel involved with the GPS launch mission is very unique," said Staff Sgt. Terrance Bensink, who became an Ace with this launch. "I'm filled with a great sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that I was part of a relatively small group of professionals responsible for the task of modernizing a constellation that is used by over half of the world's population. To achieve Ace status on the last launch is a very meaningful achievement that I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

Once SVN-70, the latest GPS satellite and last of the Block IIF series, separated from the booster, 19 SOPS launch personnel continued to track the vehicle, monitor telemetry, and send time-sensitive commands to acquire the attitude, orbit and vehicle configuration necessary to accomplish its mission. These activities play out during several days following launch. After successful launch and checkout procedures, SVN-70 will join 40 other on-orbit GPS vehicles in providing position, navigation and timing signals to the world.

"I've been involved with an average of two GPS launches per year for the last 10 years, which is astonishing to think back on," said Senior Master Sgt. Cory Garcia, 19 SOPS' Ace of Aces with an incredible 25 launches under his belt. "It's a rare privilege. I have participated in more satellite launches than most other constellations have on orbit. I was fortunate to serve the Air Force Reserve in the right place at the right time."

With the end of the aggressive launch schedule Team Blackjack has upheld, 19 SOPS now prepares to hand over the launch reins and move into a different role.

"The upcoming GPS III satellites will be launched by their contractor, moving 19 SOPS out of this niche mission area," explained Lt. Col. Sam Baxter, 19 SOPS commander.  "As hard as it is to say goodbye to the launch business, the squadron is excited to focus our manning on the growing navigation warfare mission, as we capitalize on the GPS constellation's evolving capabilities for improved warfighter support."

The 2 SOPS commander, Lt. Col. Todd Benson, couldn't agree more.

"The years of experience 19 SOPS brings to the fight is critical to our day-to-day GPS mission, essential for surge support with our most complex operations like satellite disposals, and in-demand as their navigation warfare expertise aids our warfighters participating in major joint and Air Force exercises.  Together, Team Blackjack delivers every day for our nation and the Air Force." 

Here's to 15 years of excellence in GPS launch operations, supported by 19 SOPS citizen airmen.   This list of reservists is only a fraction of the team who support launch, which also includes: 2 SOPS, the 45th Space Wing, the 920th Rescue Wing, the Space and Missile Center, Aerospace, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The 19 SOPS' Aces of Space Gallery:
Senior Master Sgt. Cory Garcia - 25 launches
Lt. Col. Allan Widic - 15 launches
Maj. Robert Dover - 15 launches
Master Sgt. Mark Portillos - 15 launches
Maj. Linda Gostomski - 14 launches
Maj. Eric Sands (ret.) - 14 launches
Maj. Jessica Schafer - 13 launches
Maj. Christie Pier (ret.) - 11 launches
Master Sgt. Matthew Royal - 11 Launches
Maj. Kimberly Adams - 10 launches
Lt. Col. Shanna Corbett - 10 launches
Lt. Col. Jason King - 10 launches
Master Sgt. James Crosbie (ret.) - 9 launches
Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Semin - 9 launches
Master Sgt. Kenneth Walker (ret.) - 9 launches
Staff Sgt. Bryan Wynkoop - 9 launches
Senior Airman Theo Davis - 9 launches
Maj. Andrew Schafer - 8 launches
Senior Airman Forrest Colegrove - 8 launches
Lt. Col. Paxton Mellinger - 7 launches
Maj. George Mendenhall - 7 launches
Maj. Michelle Nunez - 7 launches
1st Lt. Christopher Gapper - 7 launches
Master Sgt. Michael Button - 7 launches
Staff Sgt. Matthew Davis - 7 launches
Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Soliz - 6 launches
Master Sgt. Jonathan Bulick - 6 launches
Tech. Sgt. Stephen Chisholm - 6 launches
Staff Sgt. Kenneth Melchi - 6 launches
Staff Sgt. Terrance Bensink - 5 launches
Tech. Sgt. Noah Sabari - 5 Launches
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