Watching from atop the world

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Carl B. Bottolfson, commander
  • 12th Space Warning Squadron
Situated high above the Arctic Circle is a relic of the Cold War, a base many associate with an inhospitable climate, months of darkness, isolation, and a mission from a by-gone era. To others, like those of the 12th Space Warning Squadron, it is home, at least for a year. However, with increasing threats from potential adversaries old and new, the squadron’s mission to “execute flawless missile warning, missile defense, and space surveillance operations in order to deter aggression, secure space, and defend our nations and allies” is as equally important today as it was 50 years ago. Like our brethren before, the men and women of the 12th Space Warning Squadron, Canadians and Americans, stand atop the world serving as the watchful eye and our nations’ forward deterrent against aggression.

Our deterrent, our shield, is the northernmost Upgraded Early Warning Radar and a group dedicated to winning today’s fight and preparing for tomorrow’s. While always attentive to the northern skies and the threats posed by would be adversaries, we are ever mindful of two dangers that as a remote unit in Greenland we face every day, the environment and isolation. Thule is one of the only one-year remote overseas assignments in Air Force Space Command and with that comes difficulties to which most are not accustomed. We grind through episodes of non-existent communications with the mainland, months away from families and loved ones, and irregular shipments of foodstuffs; all that combined with an unpredictably austere arctic environment…and winter is coming!

September 15th marks the start of “Storm Season”; an eight-month period bringing winds exceeding 100 miles per hour, subzero temperatures, snow- and ice-covered roads, and dormitory lockdowns because it is too hazardous outside. During this term, maintaining personal morale and well-being takes on new meaning. The team exhibits a rare camaraderie with individuals going out of their way to include as many as possible in activities. Encouraging participation in sports days, potlucks, bingo, movie nights, and the Ice Cave for video gamers are just a few deliberate measures we take to check in with our fellow airmen. When weather permits, groups explore the countryside by going “Thule Tripping” often encountering arctic hare, foxes, and musk ox; or they take a step back in history and view the abandoned Nike missile site. The landscape is remarkable, but for the ultimate team-building experience, we hike up the 724-foot high Mt. Dundas, emplacing a stone with our name to remain for all time. Team Thule truly pulls together and epitomizes the Wingman Concept during Storm Season because despite this adversity we must maintain the watch and prepare for what is ahead.

The past decade witnessed a titanic shift in geopolitics as those that would threaten North America and our allies developed and deployed advanced weaponry with renewed vigor. These threats to our terrestrial and space capabilities steer us away from assuming a loss of communications is solely due to weather or a power failure is because of a mechanical fault. We must include the possibility of a nefarious act in the equation as we prepare for what may be tomorrow’s fight. Additionally, with the prospect of an expanded mission set for the squadron and base, determining timely and cost-effective approaches to modernizing aging infrastructure and equipment becomes vital in achieving our nation’s objectives and maintaining our strategic foothold. Under the Space Mission Force construct, we begin to address these changes to the operational environment by implementing a program to better equip our personnel with training and education in areas such as radar and electrical power systems, satellite communications, intelligence, and other unique aspects critical to site operations. We then leverage that enhanced awareness to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures and test them through a routine of drills and exercises that help us hone our skills and discover deficiencies, develop corrective processes, and determine future requirements. Continually practicing and refining this approach prepares our unified team of space warfighters, Defenders, and support personnel for any contingency, ensuring we maintain site survivability, assure our allies, and deter our adversaries.

This region can be one of the harshest on the planet, yet it possesses a splendor unlike any other and while our potential adversaries develop new capabilities and challenge us in new regions and domains, we stand to, gazing across the Greenlandic ice cap and into the depths of space always prepared, always vigilant. Who are we? We are the men and women of the 12th Space Warning Squadron, and we have the watch.