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Crew conquers Star Wars themed RED FALCON

Colonel Dennis Bythewood, 50th Operations Group commander, presents the RED FALCON trophy to the 19th Space Operations Squadron Gator crew in a ceremony last month at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. RED FALCON is a 50 OG competition designed to inspire 50th Space Wing crews to think critically when operating in contested, degraded and operationally limited environments. (U.S. Air Force/Dennis Rogers)

Colonel Dennis Bythewood, 50th Operations Group commander, presents the RED FALCON trophy to the 19th Space Operations Squadron Gator crew in a ceremony last month at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. RED FALCON is a 50 OG competition designed to inspire 50th Space Wing crews to think critically when operating in contested, degraded and operationally limited environments. (U.S. Air Force/Dennis Rogers)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- In the famous words of Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try." The 19th Space Operations Squadron Gator crew, a reserve component here, did exactly that during this year's 50th Operations Group fourth RED FALCON competition last month at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.

RED FALCON is a 50 OG competition designed to inspire 50th Space Wing crews to think outside of the box. The box of a checklist that is. This year's theme was "Star Wars," fitting for a wing that operates nearly all things space.

Crews are vectored from each squadron with a complex knowledge test where they are forced to troubleshoot and formulate non-routine answers to issues they could potentially face such as anomalies or emergency situations. Then the best crews participate in a month-long training program where they receive intelligence briefings and potential threats to their respective systems. The culminating event is a day-long evaluation where crews are critiqued on mission planning, communication and their response under extreme stress.

"We're trying to get them to think outside the box," said Capt. Peter Lusk, 4th Space Operations Squadron senior evaluator and RED FALCON organizer. "Crews develop new ways to solve old problems. We're also trying to stress them and identify breaking points in an operating system and learn from them."

This year the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 19th (Reserve) and 148th (Air National Guard) Space Operations Squadrons all participated and competed against each other. 2 and 19 SOPS, a.k.a. Team Black Jack who both co-operate the GPS satellite constellation, competed against each other. 19 SOPS came out with the upper hand.

"We're training the crews to think critically," said Capt. John Adams, 50 OG evaluations branch chief. "In a real world scenario, our guard and reserve components would be working together with the squadrons. And in fact, the reserve component won."

According to Lusk, the competition was very close this year.

"The reason why the 19 SOPS crew won was because they excelled in communication," Lusk said. "Their mission commander was really good about keeping everyone on the same page. Sometimes when crews get multiple status inputs they branch off, but Gator crew was very experienced and worked very well together."  

The competition took five months of planning and coordination to maximize results. The lessons learned are shared and implemented across the different operations squadrons. That makes this competition instrumental and invaluable to the space community.

"It's a really good experience for the crews, as frustrating and demanding as it may be," said Lusk. "It's also good for the squadron because after the fact they are able to identify action items that improve operations."

The 50 OG plans to increase the size of future RED FALCON competitions to incorporate and integrate more mission partners and mimic the scenarios to better represent adversarial threats.

First Lt. Jeremy Wright, 3 SOS senior evaluator, evaluated this year's RED FALCON competition and will be planning next year's competition.

"The competition is blossoming with more rigorous and realistic scenarios," said Wright. "Crews need to train to operate in contested, degraded and operationally limited environments. It's important with the way we not only fight wars but with the way we live our lives."

Wright said crews in the future will be able to meet the challenges they face because they were proactive not reactive.

He said one day crews will be able to say, "We're prepared because we trained for it."
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