BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In stories, the hero is often called upon to accomplish a great task, to take on the weight of a burden they did not anticipate, even though they know that hardships may plague every step of their journey. For storytellers, joy often comes from seeing the hero overcome the many obstacles placed in front of them to emerge strong and victorious against the odds.
Senior Airman Brian McLean is the author of such stories. He is also, in his own way, the hero.
As a 11th Space Warning Squadron Future Operations Flight staff instructor, McLean has been handed some heavy responsibility of his own, becoming the main point of contact for all things HEO-3, the newest highly elliptical orbit satellite in the Space Based Infrared System.
"It's very exciting to be in charge of something like this," McLean said. "At the time I didn't really think much of it. I thought 'cool, I'll get some regular hours, get off shift, you know, do something more than just the routine day to day.' To find out that you're going to be the point of contact for everything HEO-3 is kind of terrifying. You sure? I'm only a senior airman, here."
Aside from being the main point of contact for getting HEO-3 operational, McLean was also responsible for developing and implementing the training program for space operators working with HEO-3, as well as designing their evaluation system. For him, one of the most humbling aspects was that his leadership put their faith in him.
"To be completely trusted to handle all of this, at a senior airman level, that is just insane to me," McLean said, "Having that kind of role and responsibility has been eye-opening. I've been in the military four years and this is where I am right now. That's unheard of for someone at my level, so low on the totem pole. It's intense."
Not only did he head up this initiative, but McLean had an enormous impact on the overall mission. He ensured that HEO-3 was not only operational within one year of launching, but also two years ahead of schedule, securing one more piece of the space based missile warning mission. It's an accomplishment he is quite proud of.
"The amazing thing is, HEO-3 shouldn't even be doing anything right now. It should just be up there, waiting for us to launch HEO-4, so we can take HEO-1 and 2 and do other things with them,” McLean said. “So the fact that it's up in the air and actively in operations right now is great. It really is a point of pride to actually sit back, now that we have HEO-3 up and running and the operators I've trained are actually performing the mission. It's exhilarating."
Staff Sgt. Tim Lukenbaugh, the NCO in charge of future operations and McLean's supervisor, says having an Airman like him is a vital asset to the mission and makes his job all the more enjoyable.
"It's easy, he just goes," Lukenbaugh said. "You give him one thing, and he'll do everything you tell him to do better than you ask for. No arguing, no complaining, no negativity. You talk to any leadership in our squadron and they'll give you the same answer: I'll do anything for that guy. That's the kind of reputation he has."
Operations and training aren't the only thing McLean authors. He is also a passionate writer, having minored in creative writing in college. Despite the high-speed work environment of his job, he still finds the time to practice what he loves.
"I have a great idea in my head and I need to get it out, that way I can breathe, exhale, walk away and do something else," McLean said. "It's always something I've been passionate about. I'd love to write a book someday, even if it is just some project on the side."
McLean treats his writing just as seriously as he treats his work, devoting himself to his writing with passion and drive. He said when he gets in the zone, it's like when the HEO-3 got up and running; it's a great feeling.
"When I'm in the zone, I don't even notice the sun come up, I don't notice the sun go down," McLean said. "I'm completely in the moment for that story. When you actually get done with it, and you physically have something in front of you that you're proud of, it's a great feeling."
McLean is proud of the work he's done, and has confidence in the work he has yet to do. In a career field that often deals with spacecraft thousands of miles away, he says having something tangible to see is encouraging.
"It's hard to shake that feeling of accomplishment when you sit there and see all the work just paid off. That's where it is, right there. When I write a story, it's the exact same way. I did something, I accomplished something that is my own voice, no one's ever going to replicate it the same way I do."
Whether he's creating plans for new space operators or a new fictional world, McLean can rest easy knowing he not only can create a hero, but be one as well.