News | Dec. 8, 2021

Space Force Guardians Serve at Al Dhafra

By Master Sgt. Daniel Heaton 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Mixed in amongst the Air Force blue at Al Dhafra Air Base, a small handful of Space Force Guardians are supporting the mission of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, adding a little space power to the air power excellence of the Wing.

Spc3 Alex Coutinho and Spc3 Sophia Willis stand in the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron conference room at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 7, 2021. The two Guardians are among a small group of Space Force personnel working alongside the Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Dhafra. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton)
Spc3 Alex Coutinho and Spc3 Sophia Willis stand in the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron conference room at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 7, 2021. The two Guardians are among a small group of Space Force personnel working alongside the Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Dhafra. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton)
Spc3 Alex Coutinho and Spc3 Sophia Willis stand in the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron conference room at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 7, 2021. The two Guardians are among a small group of Space Force personnel working alongside the Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Dhafra. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton)
Space Force Guardians Serve at Al Dhafra
Spc3 Alex Coutinho and Spc3 Sophia Willis stand in the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron conference room at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 7, 2021. The two Guardians are among a small group of Space Force personnel working alongside the Airmen of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Dhafra. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton)
Photo By: Master Sgt. Daniel Heaton
VIRIN: 211201-F-VA676-3004B


America’s newest military branch, the U.S. Space Force marks its second birthday on Dec. 20, 2021. And while the half-dozen or so members of Space Force at Al Dhafra may hear a few “happy birthdays” in the hallways or take some good-natured ribbing, it will be mostly business as usual.

Most of the Guardians at Al Dhafra are involved in some kind of communications work, including Spc3 Alex Coutinho and Spc3 Sophia Willis, both of whom work in the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron. (Specialist 3 is the equivalent of Airman 1st Class.)

Both first-term enlistment Airmen turned Guardians, Coutinho and Willis both officially transferred to the Space Force earlier in 2021.

Coutinho was still in Air Force Basic Military Training when he learned about the opportunity to apply for Space Force.

“My first thought was ‘hey, this sounds cool,’” he said. “And immediately I started thinking that my Air Force job would align with Space Force priorities, putting on focus on vigilance and security in cyber space. I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”

Coutinho works in network management for the Communications Squadron, where he and other Airmen are responsible for maintaining the NIPR and SIPR email servers and the CAF-Net Wi-Fi.

“Cyber defense is only going to grow in importance,” said Coutinho, who is forward deployed from the 78th Communications Directorate at Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia. “You look at what other state players are doing in cyber and it is clearly important, our need to stay vigilant. The network impacts everything we do.”

Willis was working with network servers for Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois when she and her supervisor had a discussion about the new Space Force. Both decided to apply and both were accepted for transfer.

While at ADAB, Willis is working in the communications focal point, troubleshooting customer issues with the local network.

“Working the CFP is broadening my knowledge of the full realm of cyber. I think you could spend 50 years doing this and still have more to learn,” Willis said.

Spc4 (equivalent to senior Airman) James Holloway works in cyber operations for the 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron, which flies the E-3 Sentry aircraft at ADAB. He was assigned to Tinker Air Force Base when he got the word that he was accepted to transfer to the Space Force. Upon completion of his deployment at ADAB, he will be assigned to Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station in Colorado.

“Just the thought of starting something completely new, to me that was the draw,” said Holloway, who first enlisted in the Air Force in 2017.

Holloway and the other Airmen all agreed that they work they are doing in the Information Technology realm while on their deployment at ADAB will benefit them in future Space Force operations.

“One of the areas where we see the greatest potential for threats, as a nation, is in the realm of cyberspace,” said Major Ariel Stark, a Space Force officer who is currently serving as the director of plans for the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing at ADAB. “We need strong cyber professionals to counter that threat.”

Stark said as Space Force continues to grow and evolve past its second birthday, it will be exciting to see what the future holds.

“So much of what Space Force will be remains unwritten,” she said. “For myself and the others who are now Guardians, we get to be on the leading edge of this new way to serve our country."