• Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mark Sorapuru
  • 7th Space Warning Squadron commander
After 18 years in the Air Force, conversations with peers sometimes steer toward the topic of "the good old days."

During these conversations, we reminisce about Friday nights at the packed base club, crud tournaments and Guardian Challenge events. I don't know exactly when it happened but I have become one of the "old guys" who still brags about having BDUs with squadron patches and organizational ball caps in our closets, and still appreciates a glass-like shine on the toe of a combat boot. These things are remnants of days gone by but to my generation, they are symbols of the "old" Air Force. I admit that, at times, I miss those good old days, but I am also extremely proud of what my Air Force has become.

As a squadron commander assigned to Beale AFB, I participate in my host wing's honorary commander program. The program partners Team Beale commanders with influential leaders in Northern California. I am honored to partner with John Nicoletti, a great patriot and military supporter. John is a Yuba County supervisor, serving the area around Marysville, Calif., and our Beale community. He grew up in the area as a military brat and has dedicated most his adult life to supporting Beale's Airmen and has made many friends over the years. It was through one of these friendships that I was afforded one of the biggest honors of my military career, which also inspired this article.

A few months ago, John invited my wife and me to dinner with his friends, Chuck and Victoria. "Chuck" turned out to be retired Brig. Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager. During dinner, Yeager delighted us with stories about his illustrious military career that included enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II, famously breaking the sound bearer as a test pilot, and his many years of command that followed. He also spoke about how it felt to be a part of the U.S. Air Force as it stood up. As you can imagine, I had many questions about his test pilot days but I was surprised when he had questions of his own. He was genuinely interested in what it is like to command a squadron in today's Air Force. We discussed how some policies have changed over the years and the advancements made in technology, especially aircraft. I shared with him some details of our wing's operational missions, especially my squadron's role as the only missile warning, missile defense and space surveillance radar in the continental United States. Yeager proved to be the awe-inspiring hero figure that I always imagined. Toward the end of our two-hour dinner, we discussed how he saw the Air Force take form and has witnessed it grow into the great service it is today.

Upon further reflection, I realize that instead of simply growing, the Air Force has evolved and continues to do so. Our service is in a constant state of evolution because we continue to successfully adapt to changes in our environment. We adapt quickly while simultaneously accomplishing our assigned missions and preparing for tomorrow's fight. Right now, just like in Yeager's generation, we find ourselves on the verge of another major organizational shift that will come to redefine our service. We will again have to evolve to adapt to the drawdown in manning and decreased budgets, but we also have to adapt to expanding mission sets and increased operations fighting alongside our joint and civilian partners. This will cause fundamental changes in how we organize, train and equip the space warfighter and also the manner in which we employ our weapon systems. Change won't be easy, but it won't be impossible. In fact, I anticipate it will be a very rewarding challenge.

For those who may be too focused on the "good old days", who may be fundamentally opposed to change, and who consider the future to be plagued with uncertainty, I challenge you to learn from the lessons of the past. Our service has morphed many times before and, personally, I am excited to be a part of this new transformation. My excitement comes from being certain that we will overcome today's challenges by employing deliberate leadership and continuing the development of our most critical weapon system...the American Airman. Within the wing, we will continue to support, maintain and employ our missile warning, missile defense, space surveillance and space control missions with increased efficiency and capability. In spite of limited resources, we will also see advancements in these mission areas as we continue to prepare for tomorrow's fight. Like the rest of our service, our wing will evolve by learning to employ revolutionary methods to field a lighter and leaner force without compromising mission success. Our dedication to the mission, to each other, along with an unwavering commitment to Integrity, Service and Excellence, will lay the foundation for the next great generation of Airmen.