Schriever AFB in Colorado, a base of the United States Air Force, houses the world’s best space command and control teams. On July 23rd, Schriever’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (SOPS) made history as its first all-women crew gained satellite control authority (SCA) of its newest GPS III fleet satellite (SVN-76), which will provide more than 5 billion users across the world with stronger precision, navigation and timing signals.
The U.S. Space Force (USSF) is a new branch of the Armed Forces, established within the Department of the Air Force. The crew of eight history-making uniformed 2nd and 19th SOPS (the Air Force Reserve component) Airmen in command and control of SVN-76 include: 1st Lt. Alexis Thuli, 2nd SOPS operations assistant flight commander; Staff Sgt. Kelly Malone, 2nd SOPS satellite systems operator and crew chief; 1st Lt. Kelley McCaa, 2nd SOPS satellite vehicle operator; 1st Lt. Mary McLaughlin, 2nd SOPS payload system operator; 1st Lt. Mikayla Roberts, 2nd SOPS mission analyst; Senior Airman Joelle Schritt, 19th SOPS mission planner; Airman 1st Class Gillian Clover, 2nd SOPS satellite systems operator; Airman 1st Class Larissa Contreras, 2nd SOPS SSO.
Maj. Lucia White, 2nd SOPS assistant director of operation, said the 45th Space Wing women meteorologists at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, who determined weather was suitable for rocket launch June 13 inspired her to bring the idea to life in 2 SOPS.
“We want to inspire future generations of young women and let them know they can have a place in the Space Force,” White said. “[The Space Force] is the place to be, especially for those who may have barriers to overcome.”
In addition to the operational crew, Brig. Gen. Traci Kuekermurphy, Mobilization Augmentee to the Space Force Director of Operations and Lt. Col. Maggie Sullivan, Space and Missile Systems Center, granted SCA approval for their respective entities making the entire transfer an all-women event.
“Seeing positions that are historically held by men now being held by women is extremely empowering and inspiring, pushing me to be a better version of myself,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Malone, 2nd SOPS satellite systems operator and crew chief. “I’m doing this for my little sister. She probably looks up to me more than anyone in the family, and I have a chance to show her she doesn’t have to do typical ‘women jobs,’ or follow ‘women roles,’ and that it’s OK to break the norms.”
As per the Schriever AFB news release, “According to the National Science Foundation, women make up only 28% of employment in science and engineering career fields. Furthermore, an even smaller percentage of women serve in the Air Force, at about 21%.”
“We realized we could sit down and name every female in 2 SOPS,” McCaa said. “It’s crazy to think we have a squadron of over 100 people, but I can sit down and name every [female Airman] by name and rank.”
Senior Master Sgt. Karmann Pogue, 4th SOPS superintendent, attended the historic event. Pogue recently earned the rank of chief master sergeant, and will be one of only eight women to do so within the space warfighting domain.
“In my 21 years in the Air Force, I’ve never seen an all-female [space] crew,” said a teary-eyed Pogue. “To see such strong women doing amazing things is incredible. I have goosebumps.”
Capt. Angela Tomasek, 2nd SOPS flight commander, noted, “Whenever we look at these particular operators on paper, we can see they’re some of the best our squadron has to offer. The fact they’re all women is just a bonus.”
As America progresses, the armed forces have seen an uptick in women who serve. In 1980, women made up only 8.5% of all enlisted personnel across all branches, compared to 19.28% of the active duty force today.
“Life is full of challenges and it’s a matter of how you handle them,” Tomasek said. “Do you turn and go the other way or do you refuse to accept the barriers, and decide to break them down?”
Photo credit: The women of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron made history as the first ever all-female space operations crew July 23, 2020, at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The crew gained satellite control acceptance of SVN-76, officially adding another satellite to the GPS III fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Rogers and Kathryn Calvert)