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News > 117th Space Battalion's new colors flown on shuttle Atlantis
117th Space Battalion activates
Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Ward, 117th Space Battalion, unfurls colors flown millions of miles in space with the assistance of Col. Robert Balster, commander, 89th Troop Command, Colorado National Guard. The flag of the newly designated 117th Space Bn. was flown on shuttle mission, STS-117 Atlantis, and was presented to the unit by Army Astronaut (retired) Col. Patrick Forrester. U.S. Army photo by Sharon Hartman)
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117th Space Battalion's new colors flown on shuttle Atlantis

Posted 10/26/2007   Updated 10/25/2007 Email story   Print story


by Army Maj. Laura D. Kenney
100th Missile Defense Brigade

10/26/2007 - COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.  -- Military units are traditionally fiercely proud of their colors - the banners they carry into battle, the flags that lead the way and that men have died rather than surrender.

One of Colorado's youngest Army National Guard units now carries a flag that, although its history is short, has a unique claim to fame few such banners own - that of being flown in space - and presented to the unit by the astronaut who flew it 5.8 million miles.

The 117th Space Battalion, which, until the ceremony Oct. 20, was known as the 193rd Space Battalion, is a Colorado National Guard unit assigned to the U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. The very first and only Army Guard unit with a space mission, the then 193rd was activated in September 2001 at Peterson Air Force Base. The unit gained a new name as it was formally transitioned to permanent status.

The re-designation ceremony took place on a bright blue, windy day - the sky almost the same shade as Astronaut Patrick Forrester's blue flight suit. Forrester, a retired Army colonel but still an active astronaut, was more than happy to carry the unit's new colors on a voyage into space aboard the aptly named STS-117 Atlantis.

"Of course it's an exciting thing, being an astronaut. But I have to tell you, I was pretty excited and very proud to be asked to carry the flag of an Army unit that's done such great things, into space. It gave me the opportunity to brag about you guys and tell your story for 5.8 million miles (the distance the shuttle flew) and it's an honor to bring the flag back to you. I'm glad to be able to thank you personally for everything that you do," said Forrester.

Everything that they do includes deploying numerous small detachments from the battalion to the Iraqi and Afghanistan theaters of operation. The groups of Soldiers constitute Army Space Support Teams and Commercial Exploitation Teams. Those teams variously provide space support through imagery, space weather, fly-throughs and contribute space situational awareness to commanders in the field.

Forrester, who has performed two spacewalks totaling more than 11 hours on earlier missions, was unable to bring the flag outside the shuttle on this particular trip, but it flew on the space deck and made a visit to the International Space Station, adding to its travel luster.

The credit for the great idea to have the 117th's flag flown on the shuttle bearing the same designation belongs to the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Donald Laucirica, according to his executive officer, Maj. Brian Gary, who organized the ceremony and acted as commander of troops.

"The battalion commander heard about the upcoming flight with the same designation as our unit from a visiting astronaut, checked it out, and called up Col. Forrester. Obviously, he said yes," Major Gary said with a smile.

The colors were ceremoniously unfurled by Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Ward, the battalion's command sergeant major, and its Colorado National Guard brigade commander, 89th Troop Command's Col. Robert Balster.

The Adjutant General of the State of Colorado, Air Force Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, opened the ceremony with an exuberant -- "What a great day for the state of Colorado! We have the very first National Guard mission in space, and these Soldiers make sure that information is flowing to our warfighters far more swiftly than was possible in the past. I appreciate the sacrifices you have made in volunteering for these missions in harm's way."

The battalion, which has a dual chain of command that includes both state National Guard and Active Army, was praised by its SMDC/ARSTRAT brigade commander, 1st Space Brigade's Col. Timothy Coffin.

"From the green fields of Lexington and Concord to, now, the depths of space - what an impact the National Guard has had on the safeguarding of our nation," Colonel Coffin said.

Colonel Laucirica closed the ceremony.

"Today, we are a fully recognized asset of the Colorado National Guard and of the Army. Teams from this battalion have served in the war on terror, and helped fellow citizens during and after Hurricane Katrina. We can trace our lineage back to the cavalry - and it's a great day for the Space Cowboys."

Col. Michael Yowell, the first commander of the battalion and current commander of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense), explained the nickname.

"That was a nickname we've had for the 193rd/117th since we started. Kinda like the Minuteman, but the Cowboy is more Western, and the Cowboy often was a lone figure in the vast expanse of the west who relied upon his skills and wits to survive, often under harsh conditions."

Afterwards, there were cake and refreshments to celebrate the "birthday" of the new unit. Forrester gave a briefing, open to the public, on the STS-117 Atlantis flight and kindly agreed to pose for photographs with eager children and adults.

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