'We’re looked at as pioneers': New Space Force guardians from Yokota Air Base, Japan, will depart for other bases
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 28, 2021
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Newly minted Space Force guardians won’t be sticking around at the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo.
Seventeen members of the 374th Communications Squadron transferred Feb. 17 from the Air Force to the Space Force joining about half a dozen other members of the new service at Yokota.
The Space Force, established as a military service branch in December 2019, stood up the four-member 16th Expeditionary Space Flight-Alpha, 16th Space Control Squadron at Kamp Kinser, Okinawa, in September but isn’t planning a dedicated unit in Tokyo, according to the Air Force.
Most of the guardians who transferred at Yokota will head off to Space Force units at other bases and be replaced by airmen, said the communications squadron’s supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Marivic Olivera, 36, of Staten Island, N.Y.
“We’re looked at as pioneers,” she said of the new guardians during an interview Wednesday at Yokota.
The space troops’ blue name tape gets constant attention from other service members, said Olivera, who served 18 years in the Air Force before transferring.
“It is unique experience to go from the Air Force to the Space Force,” she said. “A lot of people want to be part of that.”
In April troops from Fuchu Air Base, Tokyo, where the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is building its own Space Operations Squadron, are scheduled to call on the guardians at Yokota.
“We are doing professional development with the enlisted members from Fuchu,” Olivera said, adding that the guardians also plan to visit the Japanese base.
All the guardians who spoke to Stars and Stripes dream of floating in zero gravity, but none have read “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe’s book about the first NASA astronauts. Olivera said she hadn’t even seen “Star Wars” until she joined the service and binge watched the entire series.
However, one of the Air Force officers who works with them, Capt. Laura Marshall, 30, of Gaithersburg, Md., chief of operational plans at 5th Air Force on Yokota, has watched Delta IV Heavy rockets blast off at her old duty station, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
“It is inspiring,” she said. “You see it on TV but being there and feeling that rumbling in your chest as the solid or liquid boosters go off is incredible.”
Marshall said she also spent a month at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency working with its human space flight division and checking out a mock-up of the Kibo module that is part of the International Space Station.
She and Capt. Jessica Wong, 30, of Aiea, Hawaii, help integrate space into U.S. military exercises in Japan.
Wong, who is chief of space operations and emerging domains at 5th Air Force, studied geospatial science and space operations at the Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado.
During her studies, Wong met Gene Kranz, a former Air Force test pilot who was a flight director for NASA’s Apollo lunar landing program.
Marshall and Wong are working with Japanese counterparts on space objectives for the Keen Edge exercise, involving U.S. and Japanese forces in 2022, Wong said.
The objectives will likely have to do with space awareness, Marshall said.
“That’s tracking objects and satellites in space,” she said. “Being aware of what is up there in relation to what we have.”