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Wing wins Outstanding Unit Award

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Maj. Gen. William Shelton, 14th Air Force commander, presented Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th Space Wing commander, with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for 2006 Tuesday during an All Call.

"These aren't easy to come by, congratulations to all of you," said General Shelton, who emphasized the wing's exemplary launch record, lifting $2 billion worth of payloads with zero defects.

After the presentation, General Shelton briefed on the organization of 14th Air Force and its role in the defense of our nation.

"Space is an inherently global capability," said General Shelton, "We pay attention to the regional combat commanders, because we want them to know that space is taken care of."

During the briefing, the general stressed the need to work on defensive space capabilities to fulfill the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Functional Commander-Space's mission of coordinating, planning, and conducting space operations.

Part of that fulfillment is improving space situational awareness. "Our space surveillance must be closer to real time," he said, stating that while most of the American surveillance is focused on the Northern Hemisphere, China launches in the Southern Hemisphere, where the United States isn't able to spot them until 70-80 minutes into the launch.

Another awareness issue is debris in outer space with the potential to damage satellites. "We have now over 2,000 catalogued objects in space, but there are tens of thousands of other pieces of debris that are one centimeter thick," General Shelton said.

General Shelton spoke specifically of a piece of a fragmented Chinese satellite that will pass near the International Space Station. While the fragment is expected to pass the station from a distance of 13 kilometers, there is no room for error, he said.

General Shelton also took questions from the audience, responding to questions ranging from the future of Air Force space operations to the impact of personnel cuts on the AF mission.

Before leaving, General Shelton again congratulated wing members for winning the Outstanding Unit Award and urged them to keep up the good work.

"This is where it all starts," he said, "If we don't get it right here, we don't have space capability."