by Scott Prater
3/1/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Space operators don't often get to see the results of their work in the spotlight.
Following the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, U.S. Armed
Forces executed a disaster relief effort known as Operation Tomodachi.
As part of the effort, U.S. servicemembers delivered critically needed
capabilities and supplies in the aftermath of the disaster that struck
In recognition of the two-year anniversary of the operation, the
Japanese government is hosting a U.S.-Japan friendship reception March
22 at Littleton High School in Littleton, Colo. The event will include
special recognition for U.S. military personnel who participated in the
operation. The Consulate General of Japan and a group of high school
students from Sendai, Japan, who survived the disaster will be on hand
to express their gratitude.
Schriever will be well represented at the event. More than 15 Airmen
participated, including members of 1st, 4th and 7th Space Operations
"Satellite operators and engineers at the 50th Space Wing played an
important role in the operation," said Lt. Col. Mike Manor, 1 SOPS
commander. "Specifically, teams with the 1st and 7th Space Operations
Squadrons used the Tactical Satellite-3 to successfully collect
time-critical imagery of the disaster area in Japan. These images were
critical in supporting the relief effort by providing unfettered
overhead access to areas contaminated by damaged nuclear reactors, so
relief agencies could have situational awareness even in the most
TacSat-3's imagery capabilities were suited perfectly for the job.
Senior Airman Jonathan Farill, 1 SOPS mission chief, explained that
TacSat-3's hyperspectral imager allowed users to see many different
chemicals on the ground and in the atmosphere of the affected area.
"I was the mission commander on duty the day we received the tasking
from the Joint Space Operations Center to begin relaying images," said
Capt. Paul Newell, 1 SOPS mission commander. "I believe it was the very
next day following the disaster. We started looking for potential
opportunities to image almost immediately."
Newell said working as part of Operation Tomodachi was a unique experience.
"It was strange watching the news and seeing the devastation," he said.
"It was a good feeling knowing that we were helping provide critical
effects to people in need. Normally, we don't see the direct effects of
what we do. I think we were all pleasantly surprised to learn of the
For 1 and 7 SOPS members who played a role in Operation Tomodachi, the
event continues to stand out as a memorable moment. It's also one
operations crews continue to learn from.
"Every time I hear of a natural disaster I think about our Japan
operation," Newell said. "We had a lot of takeaways from that experience
in the form of tactics, techniques and procedures, especially in the
development of the satellite systems we operate now."