COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When Iran launched a volley of ballistic missiles at American military personnel stationed at Ain al-Asad base, Iraq, January 2020, it was 1st Space Brigade Joint Tactical Ground Station operators who provided warning allowing the service members in harm’s way enough time to scramble to safety in hardened shelters.
JTAGS’ critical skill set of monitoring, processing and disseminating infrared data from satellites to provide warning of missile attacks is taught in only one place: the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense School in Colorado Springs.
“Colorado Springs is the home of Army’s space training,” said Sgt. Calvin Williams, a JTAGS initial qualification course instructor. “All Soldiers serving in Army Space come through here to get initial training.”
The seven-week JTAGS IQC primarily receives Soldiers who have been initially trained as enhanced early warning systems operators, or military occupation specialty 14H. Most 14H-trained Soldiers go to traditional Air Defense Artillery units, but those who are at the top of their of class get the opportunity to come to Army Space where they learn the basic fundamentals of space, orbits, satellite capability and broad-scale missile warning.
“These Soldiers are coming from zero space knowledge to lots of space concepts and terminology thrown at them,” said Williams. “We tell the students every day, it’s like drinking from a firehose – be a sponge and absorb as much information as you can. Big picture, we’re training them to save lives.”
JTAGS instructors are noncommissioned officers hand-picked for their extensive knowledge in the JTAGS system and civilians who are prior military with a JTAGS background.
Andrew Wimberly, JTAGS course manager and a former chief warrant officer 4 who retired from 1st Space Brigade in 2012, has more than 20 years of experience in JTAGS. He oversees the schoolhouse and ensures all the students’ qualification requirements and needs are being met and addressed.
“The big takeaway for the Soldiers leaving here, whether it be the privates, the senior NCOs, or the officers, is that the mission is greater than themselves,” Wimberly said. “They’re just not supporting the Army, but also the joint community and other services around the world. These Soldiers are going to move onto their detachments and be on the ground in theater supporting the mission, and it all starts here. We’re the only ones in the Army that trains JTAGS.”
Cpl. Thuy Mao is one of those future JTAGS operators taking the IQC. He comes from an air defense background in the Marine Corps and joined the Army in 2018. He said he hopes to gain a bigger picture of air defense.
“Instead of just focusing more on a smaller theater asset like I was before, I am being trained to be, more or less, a strategic communications asset on a much larger level,” Mao said. “The ability to work with satellites and provide that early missile warning for the Army is what interests me.”
Mao will be going to 1st Space Company’s JTAGS-Qatar detachment after his training at the schoolhouse, where he will certify.
JTAGS detachments, located in Italy, Qatar, Korea and Japan, fall under 1st Space Company, 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade. 1st Space Brigade, headquartered at Fort Carson, is the Army’s only space brigade. Their mission is to generate and provide space combat power to Army and joint forces in support of global and continuous multi-domain planning and operations.