Building from a base of one four-star general, a chief master sergeant and a pile of lieutentants fresh from Air Force Academy graduation, the new Space Force has begun assembling its roster.
The service, formed in December, started accepting applications for transfer on Friday as it seeks to sign up more than 15,000 troops in the coming years. And while the Space Force doesn’t have a name to call its troops, a uniform for them to wear or a song they will sing, leaders say they do have an idea of what types of people will fill its ranks.
“People who have been supporting Air Force Space Command, they have a unique skill set,” said Col. David Stanfield. “That experience will stand out a lot.”
This year, Space Force will recruit 6,500 officers and enlisted troops. The bulk of them will come from what used to be Air Force Space Command, which is being rebuilt into the foundation for the new service. But the Space Force won’t be ordering people to switch uniforms.
“The first thing is they have got to volunteer,” Stanfield said.
America hasn’t created a new armed service since 1947, when the Air Force was split away from the Army. The Space Force is growing from the Air Force, its parent service that was responsible for the bulk of the military’s satellite troops.
Retired Brig. Gen. Marty France, who was head of space programs at the Air Force Academy before his retirement, said the new service will need to seek troops with some old-school values.
“Of course, integrity comes first — that goes without saying,” said France, who now works as an aerospace consultant for military contractors. “Hand in hand after that would be technical competence and the ability to communicate.”
With three active-duty space wings, the headquarters of U.S. Space Command, the National Space Defense Center, and bases that control almost all military satellites, it is clear that the bulk of the Space Force troops will live and work in Colorado.
But Space Force will be the military’s leanest branch.
Only those who are involved with space operations and support troops who will help design Space Force equipment, oversee contracting and gather intelligence are allowed. All other roles supporting the new service, from cooks to cops, will be filled by Air Force troops.
While members of other branches can technically apply to switch to the Space Force, the new branch is not empowered to recruit them. Space Force has no recruiters, relying on the Air Force to find those who will fill the ranks.
Retired Gen. Lance Lord, whose last job in uniform put him atop Air Force Space Command, said the extreme specialization of the new service gives it an advantage: pride in professionalism.
“It is really about what you need to do to protect U.S. interests in space,” he said.
Lord said the professional ties between Space Force troops will do more than uniforms and other traditions to bind the new service.
“All that carping about uniforms and songs, those are secondary or tertiary issues,” Lord said.
The general would not even get fancy on what to call the new Space Force troops. “I’d call them space professionals and leave it at that,” he said.
The Space Force was born amid increasing dangers to American satellites. As the military has grown more reliant on satellites to fight on the air, land and sea, America's rivals have worked to target American assets in space.
In the past month, Russia has launched an anti-satellite rocket, Iran has launched its first satellite and China has continued work on its burgeoning anti-satellite program.
The new service is already drawing plenty of interest from would-be transfers.
Stanfield said online gatherings for potential recruits have drawn hundreds of viewers and applications to join the Space Force began pouring in Friday as airmen rushed to make the switch.
Joining the new service will be easy for airmen already assigned to space jobs in the Air Force. Stanfield said transfer for those airmen is all but guaranteed if they volunteer.
But for engineers, contracting experts and intelligence types, getting into Space Force could be more difficult. Stanfield said the new service wants volunteers, but won’t take them all because leaders don’t want to leave the Air Force in the lurch.
“We anticipate more demand than we have positions to fill,” Stanfield said.
Recruiters are also signing up the first new Space Force enlistees. Stanfield said the first Space Force recruits will report for basic training in October.
France said the new service also needs to recruit from the growing civilian space industry where startup firms have developed revolutionary technologies from reusable rockets to pint-sized satellites.
“Space Force will, I think, set itself apart in terms of entrepreneurial spirit — or at least it should,” France said.
Retired Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is now a space consultant for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said the new service will also need troops with combat experience.
“They need people from backgrounds who understand how to operate in a war-fighting domain other than space,” Bogdan said.
Getting those troops into the space service could require congressional help. Now the Space Force is limited bringing in Air Force troops, but legislation would let it seek soldiers, sailors and Marines.
Bogdan said gaining the ability to draw from other services would set the Space Force apart.
“It is a whole series of skill sets that’s different,” he said.
France said the new service will automatically come with its own esprit de corps.
“I think the novelty of being on the ground floor of Space Force will take care of that,” he said. “But, senior leaders are going to have to make sure they're grooming the right leaders to move up the ranks and keep that spirit alive — not just folks that look good in uniform.”
Lord said making sure Space Force has enough money could be nearly as important as the people it recruits.
“If you give people the mission and the resources to do it, you should be able to get the job done,” he said.
Stanfield said while the new service is identifying the people who will fill its ranks, the job they’ll have is already well-defined.
“In totality what the Space Force was stood up to do was to be very focused to protect and defend space,” he said.