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Get Inspired by These Trailblazing Women in the U.S. Space Force

FEB 1, 2023 -- In the paragraphs below, you’re going to read about two exemplary women—but not in that cliché setup wherein they face adversity, achieve something they never thought they could, and prevail in an industry designed for them to fail. This isn’t that. This is inspiring. Frankly, this is badass.

As members of the United States Space Force—the sixth branch of the military, created to protect the nation’s freedom in space—Lieutenant Colonel Anna E. Gunn Golkin and Specialist Cristine Rivera employ their intellect, leadership abilities, and tactical skills. They are two of more than 8,000 active-duty members who design, develop, and run training for a variety of security systems—from missile warning to communications in weather.
Lieutenant Colonel Anna Gunn-Golkin
Not a second goes by when Lt Col Gunn-Golkin isn’t thinking about space. Her dog Kuiper—named after the Kuiper Belt ring of icy objects around the Sun, which extends just beyond the orbit of Neptune—wouldn’t allow it, nor would the colonel want to. As the commander of the 3rd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the New Jersey native’s job is to lead a team of approximately 150 handpicked military personnel, civilians, and contractors as they test first-to-market space tech and methodologies and determine which are ready for use in space. “We fly really unique satellites,” she says. “We test a variety of experimental space systems and support new space-system development. We get presented with pretty ill-defined broad problems, and we just get it done.”
With the help of their experimental spacecraft, called EAGLE, which is located well above the geosynchronous orbit (an Earth-centered orbit with an orbital period that matches Earth’s rotation) and responsibly away from other spacecraft, Lt Col Gunn-Golkin’s squadron is constantly experimenting under her command. “Our current battle is about preventing great battles,” she says. “My team is focused on developing tactics and proving the technology to protect our space-based capabilities and defend them from potential adversaries [is feasible].”
Of course, constant experimentation only succeeds if there’s a desire to continue learning—and Lt Col Gunn-Golkin’s three and counting educational degrees more than prove her passion. After receiving her commission from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2005, she earned a master of science in astronautical engineering, and another in flight-test engineering. Now, the active-duty service member is going for her Ph.D. in systems engineering.
“We get presented with pretty ill-defined broad problems, and we just get it done.”
Still, packed as her schedule is, the lieutenant colonel finds time to propel the Space Force’s mission forward by encouraging the next generation of scientists. “When you’re in the plane and looking down at the Earth below you, there’s just this sense of wonder in the kid that’s sitting next to you,” Lt Col Gunn-Golkin says of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) youth programs, during which servicemen and women take children on real flights for hands-on learning. “Next thing you know, you’re having these crazy conversations about aerospace engineering with a kid who’s totally catching on. It’s so fun to see them enjoy themselves and to help spark that interest in STEM.”
Specialist Cristine Rivera
Officially, there are four Guardian Ideals—character, commitment, connection, and courage—but Spc Rivera has a fifth: modesty.
Prior to her time in the military, the Philippines native had her worldview changed while serving in the Peace Corps. Stationed in the Republic of Mali in West Africa, Spc Rivera established nutrition programs for locals. Among other successes, she spearheaded a fish-pond project that provided for 300 villagers. Still, that’s not what she’ll share about that time if you ask her.
“I remember my neighbors and friends. I remember their generosity, kindness, and understanding,” she says. “Kangay, the grandmother of my landlord, welcomed me as if I were her own daughter.”
Spc Rivera adds that despite being hungry, Kangay showed “hospitality and kindness to the extent any human can show. They cared more about me being happy than they did of their own needs. A part of my very being will always carry their kindness with me.”
“They cared more about me being happy than they did of their own needs.” That kindness helped Spc Rivera understand the spectrum of human behavior during her seven years as a behavior detection officer with the federal government. “People have signatures and cues that make them unique, but there is a difference between someone having a bad day and having malicious intent,” she explains.
That kindness drove her to serve her country, and she enlisted in the Air Force shortly thereafter. Within six months, Spc Rivera was selected by the board to transfer to the United States Space Force. “My leadership waited to tell me in a video meeting. I was jumping for joy in my head,” she says.
The reason Spc Rivera’s accomplishments are spoken of in the past is exactly that: She’s already achieved so much. She currently serves as the knowledge management operator for the 30th Space Communication Squadron, where she ensures that the Vandenberg Space Force Base’s records are known, compliant, and enforced by leadership. She speaks five languages. She’s working on a master’s degree. And she’s nowhere near stopping.
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