Greeley Squadron On Guard for Nuclear Launch
By Capt. Kristin Haley, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 04, 2009
Buckley AFB, Colo. -- The 137th Space Warning Squadron is a little-know Air National Guard unit working out of a cluster of buildings on the eastern edge of Greeley, Colorado. In the event a rival country launches nuclear missiles against the United States, however, this squadron of Colorado Air National Guardsmen will suddenly become vitally important to national command authorities.
More specifically, the unit's base is located along the Greeley-Weld County Airport. It's hard not to notice the small cluster of buildings surrounded by barbed and razor wire, an anti-tank blockage system along with armed military police around the complex.
The 137th Space Warning Squadron performs missile warning and nuclear detection on a daily basis. According to Master Sgt. Steve Olguin, Space Systems Operator, "we're an integral part of tracking with Northern Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs. If they have a hard-line failure, we step in and assume their mission on a fulltime basis."
In addition to serving as a back-up for active-duty NORAD units, the 137th also performs a unique mission that no one else in the world can do, said Col. Skip Johnson, 137th SWS commander.
As part of its missile warning and nuclear detection mission, the squadron monitors the entire world through infrared signals from satellites 23,000 miles in space. If a missile is launched anywhere in the world, the unit would see it instantly and report the information to NORAD.
What makes the 137th SWS so special, though, is that, unlike other units performing the same mission, they're completely mobile. 137th Airmen get the order to move out from no one other than the Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sometimes not knowing their final destination until they get there.
The purpose of keeping the squadron mobile is to avoid having them targeted in a war situation.
"As you can imagine, we have a huge array of folks that make up this squadron. It's quite unique, actually," said Johnson. "We've got the obvious missile warning operators who work the detection systems, but we've also got mechanics that keep the tractors and trailers running, wide band and SATCOM maintenance technicians, HVAC technicians, power generation and computer maintenance folks, medical and security personnel, the list goes on and on."
In addition to the mobile nature of the unit and the various career fields contained in one squadron, what also makes this unit unique is that unlike the active duty, many of these Guardsmen have been performing the same job or function for years. "In addition, a lot of our traditionals perform the same duties full-time in a civilian capacity," said Johnson.
"For example, one of our mechanics has 23 years of military service and over 30 years in the civilian transportation industry. We have another individual that while only in the unit for nine years, has been doing the same job in the Air National Guard for over thirty-two years. You just don't get that kind of experience in the active duty or folks that know their jobs so well," he added.
The combination of being a small, tight knit unit and having such experienced personnel brings a great asset for the Joint Chiefs and all funded through the National Guard. "We are one big team and the 137th as well as men and women of the 460th keep a watchful eye and remain vigilant in protecting the interests of the United States," said Johnson. "We have a great relationship with our active duty brethren."