Story by Cpt. Timothy Vaughan
Special Operations Command Africa
The United States military must be prepared to fight and win across a multitude of domains. We fight on land, in the air, on the sea, in cyberspace and across the information space as well. It stands to reason that the next domain we should defend and present obstacles for our enemies in is space. Multi-domain irregular warfare is now the norm. With peer and near-peer competition activity becoming increasingly more prevalent and contested, the US military needed to reimagine the joint force warfighting concept. Space Force was created to respond to that need. While many service members are chomping at the bit to be a part of this new service component, only the elite individuals possessing the correct skills and talents are chosen. U.S. Air Force Capt. Santiago Duque-Ayala is one of those elite individuals, and is notably the first from Special Operations Command Africa.
Capt. Duque-Ayala was born in Bogota, Colombia and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 7 years old. He grew up in Edison, New Jersey and attended Rutgers University where he received his degree in Marketing Supply Chain, a field he says he is extremely passionate about. While attending school, Duque-Ayala was also a cadet training to commission as an Air Force officer. Duque-Ayala became a US citizen a mere two months before graduation, which allowed him to take the oath of office and receive his commission.
Fast forward to August 2020, Duque-Ayala arrived in Stuttgart, Germany as a captain for a 6-month rotation with Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA). While at SOCAFRICA, Capt. Duque-Ayala worked as the Field Ordering Officer (FOO) Program Manager — the head contracting officer to assign and train down-range trusted agents to purchase mission essential items needed for forces to successfully operate on the African continent.
When the former administration issued the order to reposition US forces in Somalia, Joint Task Force – Quartz (JTF-Quartz) was created. In support of OPERATION OCTAVE QUARTZ, Capt. Duque-Ayala was appointed the Joint Logistics Operations Center Officer In Charge for the entirety of the mission. JTF-Q was, in a large way, a logistical problem and Duque-Ayala’s new job was ensuring it happened. When the captain’s boss went to Somalia to assist with the effort, Duque-Ayala filled in as the battle captain. Duque-Ayala said the level of detail required in that position was daunting; they tracked data such as the movement of personnel, the number of pallets shipped per day, flights, and if those flights arrived on-time.
When the mission was successfully completed and Duque-Ayala could breathe again, he was sworn into the Space Force on the 11th of February. He said he hopes to provide the same level of expertise and attention to detail in the Space Force that he provided to SOCAFRICA.
Duque-Ayala is now back home in Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, where he is finishing up his former position as a program manager. Upon completion of that assignment, he will transition to his new role as a Space Force acquisition officer. While he doesn’t know if he’ll stay in the military for the full 20 years, his career decisions won’t be based on finances.
“It’s not about the money for me,” he said. Duque-Ayala’s plan is to keep going until his work in the military is not enjoyable anymore and then jump into something he wants to do. He added that if he wasn’t running logistics and finance in the military, he would be doing the same thing as a civilian.
As the first SOCAFRICA member to be recruited to the Space Force, Duque-Ayala expressed gratitude for his time at the command. The experience and mentorship he received at SOCAFRICA has shaped his outlook on the military. It was his first joint assignment, meaning he worked with other branches of the military.
“It was a huge culture shock that forced me to change my mindset,” he said. “It was a humbling experience that made me want to know more and rekindled my drive to be in the military.”
Duque-Ayala is looking forward to taking the lessons learned from operating in a joint environment and applying them to the international space community. The Space Force is the first-ever military service component of its kind worldwide, so everything the Space Force does will be a historical first and much is unknown.
“You get excited about things you don’t know, especially when it’s things you can be a part of,” he said.
Duque-Ayala said he hopes to contribute to the logistics of rocket building and is looking forward to working with other governments within the space community. He hopes to work with all countries, even ones we tend to compete with.
“Either we all go together, or we keep going our separate ways, but at the end of the day there is nowhere but up,” he said.
For Duque-Ayala, the sky is not the limit.