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First Air Force takes command of Det 3 rescuers as part of new Space Command mission

  • Published

Marking one small step in a larger leap for its role as Air Force component to U.S. Space Command, First Air Force assumed command of Detachment 3, Space Launch Delta 45 (formerly the 45th Space Wing), during a redesignation ceremony July 15 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., attended by members of the First Air Force leadership team and Det. 3 special guests.

“Detachment three is truly a one of a kind unit,” said Brig. Gen. William Betts, vice commander, First Air Force, who presided over the Det. 3 redesignation. “It is the only full-time unit in the Department of Defense that trains for and orchestrates the recovery, retrieval and rescue of astronauts anywhere around the globe.”

And while the redesignation of Det 3 meant a change in its branch of service from the U.S. Space Force to the U.S. Air Force, it will continue to provide the same skilled capabilities as DoD’s Support to Human Space Flight.

“It was important for us to bring them back into the Air Force family,” said Betts. “This is an Air Force rescue unit and it’s our job now to make sure that they have what they need to do their mission.”

In addition to the redesignation of Det. 3 to Air Combat Command’s First Air Force, Betts also presided over the Det. 3 Change of Command, during which Lt. Col. Richard Bolton took command from Lt. Col. Michael Thompson, who commanded Det. 3 for the past three years.

“Richard, you're taking command of the best unit in the entire Air Force, and the best mission,” said Thompson. “I am so proud and humbled - thankful to have been a part of this team. U.S. Space Command is thankful to have this joint mission. I know that with First Air Force advocacy and the horsepower they will bring the team - and your leadership - there are great things to come.”

Bolton also shared his enthusiasm for the rescue unit, its people and the supportive family members.

“Thank you for welcoming my family down here, and thank you for leaving the unit in such a prime position to continue success. To me there are few missions more fulfilling than this… ‘that others may live’ is an honorable ethos… we've been living that in Rescue this whole time, but working that same motto alongside the teams that put a man on the moon, makes me swell with pride.”

The Det. 3 is the only unit within the DoD tasked to support contingency operations during Commercial Crew Program launches alongside interagency partners. For all crewed flights, Det. 3 plays the role of overseeing postured rescue forces on alert at Patrick Space Force Base; Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

The rescue forces are comprised of total force Airmen from Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command to include Active Duty and Air National Guard Airmen who have mastered being pilots, flight doctors, pararescuemen and communications operators.

For mission execution Det. 3 conducts global command and control of the rescue team which grows from 33 to over 140 members ready to rescue astronauts from any one of its three locations. The rescue team is responsible to rescue and recover the astronauts from their capsule that may splashdown in the ocean during crewed space operations. The rescue team trains in the intricacies of space medicine, dealing with deconditioned astronauts, hazard detection techniques to safe the capsule and procedures for extracting the crew from the spacecraft.

“As First Air Force attains initial operating capability as the Air Force Service component to U.S. Space Command, it is anticipated to be designated as Air Forces Space or ‘AFSPACE,’” according to Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force. “In the meantime, stakeholders at many levels within the Department of the Air Force and USSPACECOM are determining the specifics of what the AFSPACE designation entails to include authorities, manpower, responsibilities, roles and missions.”

First Air Force will continue to provide uninterrupted air component support to North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command while also exercising command and control over Air Force forces supporting U.S. Space Command.

Pierce, who was attending several other official business engagements sent his sentiments from afar.

“Det. 3 has a long and proud history dating back to the 1950’s supporting NASA’s Mercury Project that continues today with the ever growing Human Space Flight Support mission,” he said. “Please join me in welcoming Lt. Col. Bolton and the entire Det. 3 team to our First Air Force family.

The ceremony can be viewed at the following website link: