Space Force Credited for Saving Lives of American Soldiers


One year ago, in the early morning of Jan. 8, 2020, based on Iraq’s local time, Iran unleashed a missile barrage at al-Asad Airbase and another base in Irbil housing U.S. troops. No Americans were injured.

At the time, U.S. military officials told The Washington Post that American forces knew about the coming strike hours in advance and were in fortified bunkers when the missiles fell.

“No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well. I salute the incredible skill and courage of America’s men and women in uniform,” President Donald Trump said in a January 2020 White House statement.

A year later, that “early warning system” has been identified as the Space-Based Infrared System, a group of satellites that surveils the Earth’s surface in order to detect missiles.

The system was operated by the Space Force’s 2nd Space Warning Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, that night and provided the warning for troops on the ground, according to an exclusive report by C4ISRNET.

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“This is what they’re trained to do day in and day out,” Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Brandon Davenport said.

“That part felt very normal. That’s why it felt surreal, because it felt like any other day other than the fact that we all knew there were Americans and allies on the other end of that missile.”

The squadron took over the operation of the warning satellites in October 2019, amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Tensions escalated even more after the U.S. assassinated Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3, 2020.

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“The second that he was killed, within that frame of time that he was killed, we were talking through, you know, what could be the responses that Iran would take,” Davenport said.

“I think in a way, our mind was on this threat from the get-go.”

After the killing of Soleimani, the squadron knew it would have to plan in case Iran decided to take revenge.

“We have an ability to sort of tailor how we collect things, and I just remember going through that mission planning and trying to come up with that collection strategy,” 1st Lt. Christianna Castaneda said.

“In discussions with other agencies and our intelligence analysts, we were able to come up with a strategy to collect on whatever the potential retaliation could have been.”

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On the night of Jan. 7, 2020, the SBIRS sensors picked up the Iranian missiles’ infrared flares and could see where they were heading.

“With the indications that we received, we knew immediately that this was the threat that we were potentially waiting for,” Mission Commander 1st Lt. Mariano Long said.

“That night it came out of nowhere. It was a lot of missiles quick, and we could see where they were trying to impact. We knew, literally, people that were serving alongside us were being targeted.”

They quickly sent out the warning call and the American troops were able to evacuate or take cover in bunkers.

Davenport gave all the credit to the “young guardians.”

“I don’t think most people understand, the crux of this mission is done by the airman, by the enlisted,” Long added.

“I really want to attribute all the success we had that night to our airman that … do essentially the nitty-gritty of the job. If it wasn’t for them that night … we would not have had the success that we did.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith