VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The road between Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Santa Maria gate and the Minuteman III static display is commonly referred to as the Avenue of Flags; where each state flag is prominently displayed along both sides of the road. But, without the addition of new states to our nation, more flags have recently been added to this proud display.
These new flags represent another historical milestone for Team Vandenberg -- the formal addition of exchange and liaison officers to Vandenberg’s Combined Space Operations Center and 18th Space Control Squadron.
“Those flags you see out front represent members of those countries that are working here with us,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bryan Shrank, Deputy J5, Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC). “There are exchange officers that work with the Combined Space Operations Center, and liaison officers working here as part of the Multinational Space Collaboration office.”
Although exchange officers, and liaison officers share the similarity of working outside their own nation; both roles of service are executed in different arenas.
“We have exchange officers here from Canada, United Kingdom and Australia who all serve as U.S. military personnel, and likewise we have American exchange officers working in all of those countries as well,” said Shrank. “Whereas the liaison officers, from Germany, the United Kingdom and France come as a representative of their country.”
The different jobs are important for many reasons.
“The United States has been working in coalitions since our inception,” said Michael Syintsakos, JFSCC Multinational Space Collaboration Lead. “The coalition that we’re exercising currently through the Combined Space Operations Center and the liaison officers here is to build resilience and to expand our capacity, capability, and influence for the peaceful use of space.”
With that common goal, having more countries involved provides a greater source of knowledge.
“The bottom line is that it gives more perspective,” said Syintsakos. “You have to have a partnership, here, serving in the same capacity as U.S. military so that we can gain their insight. When they come here as exchange personnel they receive training that they bring back to their countries. But, they also provide the key expertise that they bring from their national perspective, even when they are fulfilling a U.S. role. When you look at the liaison officers it is still about perspective…but it is sovereign perspective. When the exchange personnel come in, they bring their technical perspective and experience. Whereas when the liaison personnel come in, they represent and speak on behalf of their country.”
During a recent visit from German Air Force Brig. Gen. Burkhard Pototzky, Air and Space Operations Division Chief, Air Operations Command, (pictured) the German liaison officer assigned to Vandenberg highlighted the importance of space operations and capabilities here.
“Free access to space as a safe domain to act in military service and civilian service was always of mutual interest to both nations,” said Lt. Col. Lothar Pichler, German liaison officer for space. “So we set up a couple years ago already a space working group, and in one of those meetings we agreed that it would be very useful on both sides to have liaison officers here for direct exchange. We have direct access to the operational level of the Joint Force Space Component Command to U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and the strategic level; as well as to the operational and tactical level within the CSpOC and the 18th Space Control Squadron.”
Pichler may stand out in the work environment because of his uniform, but in a civilian setting, both he and his family are already camouflaged into American society.
“It’s fantastic being in California,” said Pichler. “I brought my wife with me, now that our children are already grown up; but my daughter was actually born in Texas. We as a family were affiliated to the United States already, since I had the opportunity to work in the United States before. So when the opportunity came up to apply for this position here, we were very excited to be selected.”
Pichler represents just one of several officers from other countries working at Vandenberg.
It is a priority for USSTRATCOM and JFSCC to work with like-minded partners to develop combined space doctrine, operations and associated activities such as exercises and training, which will foster collaborative sharing of space-related capabilities.