Air University space chair awarded inaugural Colombian medal

  • Published
  • By Phil Berube
  • Air University Public Affairs

The space chair to Air University was one several recipients of the inaugural Colombian Ad Astra medal presented by the South American country’s president recently for their efforts in helping Colombia with its emerging national space program.

Space Force Col. Galen Ojala and 10 others were presented the award by President Iván Duque Márquez during a ceremony July 28, 2022. The ceremony also marked the opening of the country’s space operations center on the grounds of the Colombian Air Force Academy in Cali, Colombia.

Awardees also included U.S. Space Command’s Scotty Van Sant, Colombian deputy ministers and air force space cadre officers and a Polish diplomat.

The colonel received the Ad Astra (To the Stars) medal for his service as U.S. Southern Command’s director of space forces within Air Forces Southern at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., between 2018 and 2021. He joined Air University as its space chair in June 2021 and is also an instructor in the Air War College Department of Leadership and Warfighting. Ojala said receiving the award is very gratifying, but not for recognition of any of the work he’s done personally. 

“The moment was a culmination of the years of so many applied energetic talents across the U.S. and our partner nations, whom I had the opportunity to guide toward a common cause,” he said. 

During this period, Ojala said he “led a diverse multi-service, multi-combatant command, interagency team-of-teams to advise Colombia's development of space talent, capabilities and capacity while facilitating bilateral, regional and global integration of Colombian space operations to address shared regional and global security concerns.”

Among his team’s many successes, Ojala said the most memorable one started when the Colombian Air Force made a call for assistance in designing its new space operations center and research and development and manufacturing center.

The Air Force has mountains of data and expertise on this, he said, but the majority of the vast amount of information was not releasable.

“Such restrictions are extremely common, along with a general reluctance to take on the release approval process,” said Ojala. “But take it on our action-oriented team-of-teams did.”

His team, especially the Air Force Research Lab staff and various organizations’ foreign disclosure officers, rolled up their collective sleeves and got to work. They sifted through volumes of printed data and terabytes of videos and other digital media, pulling what they thought would be beneficial for the Colombians. With data in hand, they then tackled the release approval process, beginning with the Air Force Research Laboratory and ending up at the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. The result, he said, was the approval to release many terabytes of nanosatellite test and evaluation manuals and videos.

“The released information, along with online advisory sessions, directly helped the Colombian Air Force adjust military construction plans and equipment purchases,” said Ojala. “The space operations center is ready for this fall’s launch of their FACSAT-2 satellite and construction has begun on the R&D and manufacturing center for it to be ready to begin Colombia’s third-generation FACSAT-3 satellite constellation. This one event really brought together so much of the best of and the best in people.”

The colonel gives his team full credit for the tangible successes in helping the Colombian Air Force with its space program. However, he points to the intangibles for building trust and respect in the professional relationship between the Colombian and U.S. cohorts.

Colombian Air Force Academy Commandant Brig. Gen. Eliot Benavides and Ojala were classmates at Air Command and Staff College in 2009-2010. It was Benavides who fostered the space efforts within his academy staff. Also, the former commander of the Colombian Air Force, Gen. Ramsés Rueda Rueda, is an Air War College alum. Rueda, said Ojala, “long-advocated and articulated a national space vision across civil and military leadership.”

“Connections matter!” said Ojala. “And Air University is at the heart of forming lasting professional military connections. Students’ ability to study, think, discuss and laugh together across the many levels of Air University’s professional military education establishes important common understanding, values and trust that pay tremendous dividends in the decades to come.”