USAFE-AFAFRICA Space Force team wins twice during first-ever Polaris Awards

  • Published
  • By Captain Matthew Stott
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air Forces Africa

The United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Space Force team were the recipients of the “Team Excellence Award” during the first-ever Polaris Awards ceremony at the Space Force Ball in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 18, 2022.

The Polaris Awards are a newly formed, service-wide Space Force award program consisting of four individual awards, which recognize Guardians who exemplify the Space Force core values of Character, Courage, Commitment and Connection, and one team award, which encompasses all four values. The Polaris Awards are comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year awards, where USSF units compete across the Field Commands under the Space Force to be the best of the best.

During this time frame, Colonel James Quinn, Director of Space Forces, USAFE-AFAFRICA, played a critical role in securing the award win. Supporting over 200 Guardians across Europe with a team of about 30 Guardians, Col. Quinn’s primary duty was advising USAFE leadership on how to best apply space capabilities within the theater, while ensuring space capabilities were integrated into planning development for EUCOM and AFRICOM.

One of the team’s key achievements that contributed to winning the Team Excellence Award was the two-year deployment effort for Europe’s first Satellite Communications defense system, enabling critical communications link protection to different platforms during the Ukraine crisis. Between figuring out the logistics of such a movement and receiving the proper authorities based on the countries involved, it required significant coordination from the USAFE Space Force team, and they pulled it off successfully.

“The team award highlights the fact that we were able to take people who are not familiar with logistics and get them quickly trained up and still get these systems in theater,” said Senior Master Sergeant Travis Demarest, Director of Space Forces Senior Enlisted Leader, USAFE-AFAFRICA. “It was incredible to see what a small team can do and how large our impact was in the theater.”

Partnerships were also a contributing factor in winning this award. The USAFE Space Force team paired with partner military forces to conduct a two-day Basic Space Operations Course, covering 11 lessons on U.S. Space Force operations and systems. They instructed the course twice in Poland and once in Portugal, educating 90 students and two allied General Officers on space fundamentals, greatly enhancing theater space partnerships.

Not only that, but the team executed operations training for Ukrainian military members, which postured over 25 Ukrainian space experts within two weeks.

“This award reflects the benefits of having a Space Force team within the theater,” said Quinn. “Understanding where those opportunities are and enabling those functions to happen.”

In addition to the team award, the USAFE Space Force team secured an individual award. More specifically, Technical Sergeant Jake Harris, NCOIC of Current Space Operations, USAFE-AFAFRICA, won the individual category of “Commitment” for his achievements at the 328th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada before he was assigned to Ramstein Air Base. A few of his notable achievements include completing cyber certification training, which filled a personnel gap in his squadron while sustaining mission-critical networks, as well as detecting an equipment failure and procuring a no-cost replacement, which saved the Space Force thousands of dollars.

“I’m appreciative of my teammates, my fellow Guardians, and our contractors for supporting me,” said Harris. “This is an individual award, but I couldn’t have earned it without my team.”

Though the Space Force is still a fairly new service being only three years old, the USAFE Space Force team proved how impactful space is on current operations and, more importantly, future operations.

“The reason we were very successful is because of folks like Lieutenant Colonel Joel Neuber [Deputy Director of Space Forces], Master Sergeant Jennifer McCord, SMSgt Demarest, and our space team that’s integrated within the Air Operations Center,” said Quinn. “All the things we’ve asked them to do like standing up the organization, figuring out process-wise how to establish a battle rhythm, and bringing the team together to be that constant steady heartbeat.”

As the first USSF team to win during the first-ever Polaris Awards, the USAFE team will take this momentum and lay a solid foundation for the years to come.

“Our team would’ve never been a team without the efforts and overwhelming support of USAFE,” said Demarest. “Col. Quinn and Lt. Col. Neuber were instrumental in building those connections with the USAFE team, but if it weren’t for USAFE’s support to branch out on our own, we wouldn’t have been able to do amazing things like train and support Ukrainians and get them back out to fighting the war.”

You can read more about the Polaris Awards at the following link: