‘The Guardian Spirit’: Montana’s Only Space Force Unit Wins Polaris Award

The Space Force’s Polaris Awards annually recognize Guardians who best represent the Guardian Spirit. There are four individual award categories based on each of the core Guardian values—Character, Connection, Commitment and Courage—and a Team Excellence category that combines all four values. Air & Space Forces Magazine is highlighting each of this year’s winners before they receive their awards on stage at the 2024 AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo.

The U.S. Space Force selected the 22nd Space Operations Squadron (22 SOPS), Detachment 1 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., as the winner of the Polaris Award for Team Excellence for embodying all four core Guardian Values—Character, Connection, Commitment, and Courage—in 2023.

A small team with fewer than 20 Guardians, 22 SOPS, Det 1, installs, operates, and secures the secure global network (SGN) in support of the U.S. Space Force and mission partners across the national security enterprise. Despite being 70 percent manned, the group executed more than 1.1 million patches and 16,000 tickets for more than 6,000 customers in 2023.

As the only Space Force unit in Montana, Detachment 1 has made its presence known in the state’s local civilian communities.

“In Gen. Saltzman’s C-Notes, he talks a lot about telling our story and about the importance of the relationship between the military and the civilian populace,” said Maj. Jared Myers, the detachment’s commander. “So [when] we received this strategic intent from our CSO, we felt like it was everybody’s job to be an ambassador for the Space Force.”

Throughout 2023, the detachment volunteered at 13 separate DOD STARBASE and Stem2Space events where they highlighted the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to more than 400 elementary school students.

Tech. Sgt. Joshua Bennett, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Det 1, space operations technician, leads a STARBASE STEM class in front of a group of local elementary school students at the Montana Air National Guard Base, Feb. 2, 2023. STARBASE is the premiere Department of Defense science, technology, engineering and math program, offering 25 hours of education to 5th graders across the country. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elijah Van Zandt

Outside the classroom, the detachment helped install the Space Force seal at the Montana Veterans Memorial and presided over a Veterans of Foreign War ceremony where they helped raise the Space Force flag. Volunteers from the team also helped organize and participated in local state park and highway cleanups.

“I think the word got out in the community that our unit was kind of ‘hush hush’ and secret, but that doesn’t mean our presence needs to be hidden,” Myers said. “We really did make our name this past year and showed that, yeah, the Space Force is real. It’s important. Our country needs it. And being good partners with our community is a big piece of that.”

The unit’s amplification of the Guardian spirit was just as palpable on base as it was off. At Malmstrom, members of Detachment 1 voluntarily served as mentors for Airman Leadership School students, dedicating more than 50 hours to help train the local Security Forces in close-quarter battle, tactical communications techniques, and marksmanship.

Members of the 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Detachment helped install the Space Force seal at the Montana Veterans Memorial. USSF photo.

The detachment also served in key positions in Space Force working groups, including one focused on career field education and training plans, and another for the Enterprise Talent Management Office. They also contributed to Space Operation Command’s One Guardian Tiger Team, providing support to help streamline inter-service transfers as new members cross over to the Space Force.

In pursuit of personal improvement within the detachment itself, the team implemented its own professional development program. During monthly and weekly team meetings, the detachment spent more than 128 hours discussing the structure of the Space Force and Joint Force, the geopolitical terrain, and space operations’ role in keeping up with the nation’s pacing threats.

“Being at such a low echelon of a detachment, a lot of my folks weren’t sure how the service fits together, even things like, ‘What’s the difference between a combatant command and a service?’” Myers said. “So it really brought up some great questions, and was a great opportunity to impart some fundamental knowledge, especially to my NCOs.”

Myers said his team looked for every opportunity to expand its knowledge and expertise. The detachment sent members to Space Flag, a tactical-focused exercise for space warfighters, and to Space 100, a professional military education course, where the detachment earned an 80 percent unit completion.

“I am very proud of the team for everything that they did, especially being alone and unafraid at a geographically separated unit,” Myers said. “Each held their own and did the right thing. So [the Polaris Award for Team Excellence] is super exciting. It’s a very deserving team.”

Meet the other 2023 Polaris Award winners below: