(Editor’s note: The following is the first of a two-part series about former Defiance resident Eric Doctor, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Space Force. Doctor served in the United States Air Force for nearly 20 years before his position became part of the newest branch of the United States military).
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Like every American who witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Eric Doctor had a very difficult time watching the country he loves come under attack.
Doctor, a former Defiance resident, was working for the Boy Scouts of America Great Sauk Trail Council in Ann Arbor, Mich., when he got a call on Sept. 11, 2001, from his wife, Jennifer, to turn on the TV.
What happened that day shaped the future of his life, and the life of his family, forever.
“At that point in my life, I was thinking about joining the military as a reservist, but when 9/11 happened, the next day I was pounding on a recruiter’s door,” said Doctor, a 1986 graduate of Defiance High School. “I was feeling a need to serve before that day, but that day, when my wife called to tell me to turn on the TV, my co-workers and I watched the events as they unfolded.
“By the end of that day I was very motivated to join the military, I did not like the fact that my country had been attacked,” continued Doctor, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Toledo (UT) in 1991, and a master’s degree in political science and public administration from UT in 1994.
Although becoming part of the military was a long process, Doctor found himself at Officer Training School (OTS) as a member of the United State Air Force on Oct. 1, 2002. He spent 12 weeks at OTS, before being sent to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif., for Officer Space and Missile Training (OSPT).
Following training in California, 2nd Lt. Doctor went to his first duty station at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, N.D., in October of 2003 to serve as a missile combat crew member. During his time in Minot (2003-2009), Doctor served in other capacities, and was promoted twice, to first lieutenant and captain.
“It’s a popular joke in the Air Force that Minot is a tough assignment, or an odd place to be, but we really enjoyed our time there,” said Doctor about Minot. “The people there are super supportive and friendly toward the military, it’s a tight community. It really reminded me of Defiance.”
In 2009, Doctor was sent from Minot, N.D., to Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., to serve with the 22nd Space Operations Squadron as a network crew commander. The 22nd Space Operations Squadron operates the U.S. Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), which became part of the U.S. Space Force.
“I supervised a team of about eight civilian schedulers,” said Doctor. “We (the U.S. Space Force) have a series of ground stations around the world that provide connectivity between the satellites in orbit and the operations on the ground. The schedulers manage a schedule that is insanely complicated to make sure 450-some satellite contacts happen every day.”
Doctor worked in that capacity from 2009-13. In late 2012, Doctor was promoted to the rank of major.
The next step in Doctor’s military career, took him back to Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2013. He worked in a staff position as a deliberate planner for Joint Functional Component Command for Space, and while there (from 2013-16), also worked in other capacities for 14th U.S. Air Force.
“The military doesn’t do anything without a plan, so I spent three years there writing plans, specifically about how we (the military) would employ space in major conflicts and minor skirmishes,” said Doctor. “It was a joint environment, I worked with someone from the Army, the Marines, two members of the Navy and another Army officer.”
In 2016, Doctor was sent back to Schriever Air Force Base to serve as operations officer with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Operations Squadron (NOPS). The NRO is the U.S. Government agency in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites, and has a very close relationship with the U.S. Air Force.
“NOPS works closely with the Satellite Control Network that I worked with before,” began Doctor, “but NOPS’ focus is more about (space) launch. It was a pretty exciting time, because we went from 6-7 launches a year, to 35-40 launches a year as SpaceX came online. We even helped launch a Tesla (Roadster, in 2018) into space. That launch was to demonstrate the ability of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle to put a certain amount of weight into an orbit that would take you to Mars.”
During his time back at Schriever Air Force Base (2016-18), Doctor was promoted to Lt. Col. in a special ceremony, which featured another former Defiance resident, former U.S. Air Force Col. Josh Burgess.
“In my second year at NOPS, in 2017, I put on lieutenant colonel, and my friend since high school, Col. Josh Burgess, officiated my promotion,” said Doctor.
After a two-year stint at Schriever Air Force Base, Doctor was selected to lead a squadron at Royal Air Force Base (RAF) Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, where he served from 2018-2020.
“I was the commander of an operational support squadron, so while my colleague there had the operations squadron, my squadron provided communications and other support to the mission there,” said Doctor. “It was amazing there, we really loved England. We lived in the town and we had neighbors who we know will be life-long friends.
“It was a wonderful experience for Jennifer and me, unfortunately our kids (daughter, Rachel, and son, Andrew) were off to college and missed out,” added Doctor.
In June of 2020, Doctor returned to Schriever Air Force Base to serve as deputy commander of the 50th Network Operations Group (NOG). At that time, it was forecast that the NOG would be re-designated as Space Delta 6 and become part of the newest branch of the U.S. military.
On Nov. 1, 2020, Doctor became a member of the U.S. Space Force.
(Read more about Lt. Col. Doctor’s experiences in the U.S. Space Force in Saturday’s Crescent-News.)