This is where space a manner of speaking

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jesse Johnson, Capt. Jessica Raper and Tech. Sgt. Kelby Lajoie
  • 21st Space Wing
Where does space begin?

Many Airmen assigned to a space wing have seen this question during promotional testing or other educational venues.

The answer may depend on who you ask. The typical passenger jet cruises at an average altitude of six miles above the earth's surface. The U.S. space agency awards astronaut status to persons who fly above 50 miles altitude. Probably the most widely accepted scientific answer is that space begins at an altitude of 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles above the earth.

Recently, the three of us were afforded an amazing opportunity by the 21st Space Wing. We accompanied Col. Chris Crawford, 21st SW commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Trottier, 21st SW command chief, to Washington, D.C., as part of the Secretary of the Air Force's and Chief of Staff of the Air Force's Wing Commander Capitol Hill Visit Program. This annual program affords wing commanders the opportunity to make office calls with senators and congressmen that host our installations, and is considered to be a critical part of the Air Force's efforts to advocate its top issues to Congress. The purpose is to build and strengthen relationships with our political leaders, and to discuss common issues and concerns of the wing and its host state.

As the most geographically-spread wing in the Air Force, the 21st SW owns assets in 16 states and in 14 different time zones. Since the wing's sphere of responsibility is all around the world, the schedule was busy meeting with the Congress members who had an interest in the 21st SW.

During two humid, fall days in September, our small contingent of five Airmen made 17 cordial office calls that included 10 states that host 21st Space Wing assets. Despite long, brisk walks through the tunnels connecting the Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Capitol buildings from one meeting to the next, we were fortunate enough to carve out a few minutes to visit the National Archives. While there, we had the opportunity to see and read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The awed silence of this one room was possibly the most profound we had ever experienced.

The hour spent viewing these foundational documents created by our founding fathers consummated the experiences we had throughout the week as we saw our republic at work. Across party lines and perceptions, and despite the vivid political slants and painting of the elected professionals by the news, we were reassured of our country's political system by the genuine concern each elected member had for their constituents.

Whether our wing or its plans impacted six people or 5,000 people, the level of interest was the same in the Senate and the House. To illustrate, one plan Col. Crawford briefed was an initiative to save energy and consequently millions of dollars in annual savings for the wing. Though all three representatives from the affected state were excited about the possibilities, their first concern was how the changes may affect employees in their states. Their desires were for the 21st SW to ensure the employees would be taken care of through any initiatives.

Another example that illustrates the members' detail of concern was when one representative, upon hearing the wing's need for new a fire department at one of our installations, replied, "Well, if you do get a new fire truck, can you keep in mind (a small town near the station)? They have a really old fire carriage that takes 20 minutes to get ready and by that time the fire's already done. They could really use a better one."

The elected officials are doing exactly what our republic was set up to do; they are representing and advocating for their people, whether for a few or for thousands -- their people are their passion.

These elected professionals also dashed another perception sometimes gained by watching television with their overwhelming respect, appreciation and gratitude for military members, regardless of their party affiliation or stance on current military operations. This appreciation was not just felt from the members, but also their staff. Even the curious looks from the general populace walking the halls of these buildings were not meant to be discomforting, but were appreciative and grateful. We were the frequent recipients of that gratitude with many "thank yous," handshakes, smiling head nods, and even a high-five. We serve an incredibly thankful nation!

In the end, this trip fundamentally altered our perception and understanding of our government, the Air Force, our careers in the 21st SW, and space. Now, for us space begins, in many ways, in Washington, somewhere between Independence and Constitution Avenues.