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Academy grad making his name with Space Delta 9

U.S. Space Force Capt. Dillon DuarteU.S. Space Force Capt. Dillon Duarte, a U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2016 graduate, is now chief of the Space Delta 9 Commander’s Action Group at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado. (U.S. Space Force photo by Tiana Williams)

By Randy Roughton
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.- A year before then-Cadet 2nd Class Dillon Duarte graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2016, he learned his eyesight made his dream of flying impossible. But the path to a new passion began with inspiration from a Geospatial Science satellite imagery course during his junior year.

A historic opportunity

Eight years later, U.S. Space Force Capt. Duarte is chief of the Space Operations Command Space Delta 9 Commander’s Action Group at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado.

“Transitioning from the Air Force to the Space Force was a very unique opportunity,” Duarte said. “The last time that happened was World War II with the Army Air Corps moving from the Army to its own branch of service. It is a historic moment and opportunity that you get to be a part of and help stand up.”

Space Delta 9

A Space delta is equivalent to a wing in the U.S. Air Force. Space Delta 9 was activated July 24, 2020, and consists of three active duty squadrons at Schriever: the 1st Space Operations Squadron, 3rd Space Operations Squadron and 9th Combat Training Squadron.

Space Delta 9 conducts orbital warfare operations for Space Operation Command’s protect-and-defend mission in collaboration with the Joint Task Force-Space Defense Agency. Orbital warfare uses orbital maneuvers and offensive and defensive fires to preserve freedom of access and denies adversaries the same advantage.

As the Space Delta 9 Commander’s Action Group chief, Duarte coordinates all strategic planning, executive communication efforts, public affairs engagements, key themes and messaging.

“I absolutely love the job,” Duarte said. “It is not too often that you get to work in the shadow of a wing commander and see their thought processes and their decision-making and leadership style. I am hoping that what I am learning will help set me up for a future squadron command opportunity.”

Standing up Space Delta 9

After leaving the Academy, Duarte served as a resource advisor, chief of evaluations, and GPS payload operator with the 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever. He then moved over to the 50th Operational Support Squadron as an executive officer and GPS payload instructor and evaluator. He joined Delta 9 in May 2022 as executive officer and helped build the foundation for the new Space Delta.

Duarte has been a part of Space Delta 9 Commander Col. Mark Bigley’s senior staff for the past year and a half.

“Captain Duarte directly contributes to our goal of maximizing combat readiness across the orbital warfare mission,” Bigley said. “I cannot imagine where we would be without [Duarte’s] strategic vision and drive to build mission-focused capability and capacity across our small, yet rapidly growing community. He arrived on our team with a deep appreciation for operational excellence and a tireless work ethic, skills he undoubtedly honed while at [the Academy].”

Learning leadership at the Academy

Duarte credits both the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School and the Academy with developing the leadership skills he relies on as he moves up the ranks in the Space Force. The Prep School gave him the tools he needed to succeed at the Academy. Once he made it into the Cadet Wing, Duarte developed three primary leadership tools that helped him make his name in the Space Force and lead to future leadership opportunities.

“For me, communication was the foundation of the skills that I took from my Academy career,” Duarte said. “Next was flexibility. The military, especially in the space domain, is constantly changing. You must be quick and agile to adapt to whatever the domain is you are operating in. The third skill is accountability. Between those three skills, the Academy helped build my leadership philosophy, which is crucial for the job and the opportunities I have been in.”

The Academy space mission

Each year, an average of 10 percent of Academy graduates commission into the Space Force.

Read more about the Academy’s space mission.