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First Class of "Next Generation" space operators graduates at Vandenberg AFB

The 533rd Training Squadron graduates the inaugural class of 12 officers from its new undergraduate space operator course Jan. 19, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Col. Deanna Burt, 50th Space Wing commander, provided comments during the graduation ceremony. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson/Released)

The 533rd Training Squadron graduates the inaugural class of 12 officers from its new undergraduate space operator course Jan. 19, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Col. Deanna Burt, 50th Space Wing commander, provided comments during the graduation ceremony. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Helping usher in a new era of Air Force space training, the 533rd Training Squadron graduated the inaugural class of 12 officers from its new undergraduate space training course here Jan. 19th.

Students were introduced to a rigorous new course on space operations, a change which falls in line with a recent Space Training Transformation directive from General John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, to provide more technical, in-depth training for future space professionals.

"Our new enlisted and officer courses are key components of some of the biggest training changes across the space enterprise in the past 20 years," explained Lt. Col. Dean Holthaus, 533rd TRS commander. "We need to fundamentally change the way we accomplish training. The complexity of our space mission sets and the critical importance of our space systems demand these training changes."

The desire for incoming Airmen to have a more in-depth knowledge of space operations meant the Air Force would need to make changes where it all begins -- the 533rd TRS Enlisted and Officer undergraduate space training courses.

"Over the past two years, we've basically overhauled and rebuilt our undergraduate space courses from the ground up," said Holthaus. "We have Airmen, enlisted and officers, heading into areas of space operations that are rapidly changing, and we need to prepare our forces to operate in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited space domain."

This first graduation class of officers is the culmination of those years of work by the 533rd TRS preparing their space curriculum to coincide with recommendations from AFSPC and the professional space community for expanded space fundamentals training. For Capt. Matthew Sloane, 533rd Training Squadron instructor, the changes made to the undergraduate space training course will have a big impact on incoming Airmen.

"The new course changes are going to produce more technically proficient operators right out of the gate," said Sloane. "The courses are more rigorous with technical knowledge and focus on getting future space operators ready for a variety of missions, with more awareness about space operations when they get to their operational units."

Overall, the course content has nearly doubled from previous classes to incorporate the new material that the 533rd TRS has developed. Among the many enhancements is the advanced study of orbital mechanics utilizing Systems Tool Kit software, a more rigorous component on the electromagnetic spectrum and signals, and an introduction to joint operations and planning.

"The courses will be more challenging, as we are expecting future space operators to know a broader range of space knowledge, while also retaining a deeper level of understanding of space missions," said Sloane. "This increase in the amount of technical difficulty will ultimately lead to a more mission ready crew member and technically savvy operator from their first day on console."

The coursework may be more rigorous and thorough, but for students entering the space career field, receiving a more in-depth, front-loaded space operations curriculum will provide a broader foundation for them to build from. That core knowledge will be critical to their future, as they move toward more highly specialized space systems work during Initial Qualification Training, the next phase of their space training.

With graduation complete and their newly-earned space badges in place, the first class of officers from the new 533rd TRS undergraduate space training course is ready to branch out to their respective AFSPC units as the next generation of Air Force space professionals.