Space Force senior enlisted adviser talks future of enlisted force

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Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, the senior enlisted adviser of U. S. Space Force, answers a question after a ceremony at the Pentagon transferring airmen into the Space Force in September 2020. (Air Force photograph by Eric Dietrich)
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The development of the culture of the Space Force, the training Space Force personnel (now called guardians) will receive, the balance between enlisted and officer ranks in the new service, and how the force will be constituted were among the issues that Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, the new service’s first senior enlisted adviser, discussed in a recent interview.

The U.S. Space Force celebrated its first anniversary on Dec. 20. There are now roughly 2,300 uniformed members of the new force and it is projected to grow to around 6,500. Currently, there are about 100 new accessions in the service, and the remainder of the military members transferred from the Air Force. This year, the service will transfer about 3,500 more members from the Air Force and begin merging personnel from the other services into their units. There are currently 16,000 military and civilians assigned to the Space Force, and that number is expected to grow to about 20,000 in the next couple of years.

A third of the assigned force today is enlisted personnel, and typically the non-commissioned officers are the custodians of a service’s traditions and culture. 

This is rocket science, and the Space Force requires personnel with technical expertise right off the bat, Towberman said. 

“I heard [SpaceX chief] Elon Musk talk recently and he said one of his secrets was a maniacal sense of urgency,” Towberman said. 

The Space Force needs to mirror this. “I think there’s an excitement right now that a smallish group of people can wrap themselves around and really ensconce themselves in this excitement and this energy,” he said. 

By its nature, the Air Force is a very specialized technical service. When established in 1947, it was the epitome of high-tech service and that only increased as the service moved into advanced aircraft and avionics and into the world of missiles and space. 

Different aircraft require different maintainers. Different systems require different technicians. That kind of specialization doesn’t lend itself to overarching enculturation. It is not like the Army or Marine Corps where every soldier or Marine is a rifleman. A challenge the Air Force has had is to develop this larger more inclusive culture, Towberman said. 

Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, United States Space Force senior enlisted adviser, issues Space Force trainees space force military identification tags during basic military graduation, Dec. 10, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Seven members of the graduating class are the first Space Force trainees to graduate. The number of Space Force trainees will continue to increase over time as processes for recruiting and training are solidified. The first full flight of Space Force trainees is anticipated to graduate in February 2021. Approximately 312 Space Force accessions will graduate from BMT this fiscal year. Currently all Space Force accessions will become Space Systems Operations specialists. (Air Force photograph by Johnny Saldivar
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The Space Force faces the same challenges, but Towberman believes leaders can use the missions to bind personnel together. “I think, maybe, we can have the best of both worlds,” he said. “Maybe we can all get very excited about a very specific and special role that we have to play, and have this culture bind us around space and space operations. It is a great warfighting niche.” 

So, the mission and the environment can bind together the service, building a unique culture for the 20,000 guardians.

The entire Space Force will be about the same size as a Marine Corps division. The Space Force wants to be small to be agile and flexible. Towberman sees small teams being the core of the service’s future. Space Force aims to eliminate layers of command where possible, and emphasize being agile and quick, the chief said.

Space Force is a separate service under the Department of the Air Force and — like the Marine Corps to the Navy — will look to the Air Force for support. Medical, personnel, security and administration — and more — will all come from the Air Force. 

The Space Force will also examine the missions to see what jobs can be done by DOD civilians. “The uniformed force will be very precisely focused on operations, intelligence and cyber,” Towberman said. “So, literally everything else has to be done either by Department of the Air Force civilians that are assigned to the Space Force, or airmen.” 

Enlisted personnel in some Air Force specialty codes in operations, intelligence and cyber are being transferred to the new service. Training for personnel in these specialty codes is typically done in what the Air Force calls technical schools. For the time being, Space Force personnel will continue to train alongside their Air Force compatriots. 

Towberman and his boss, Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, visited San Antonio to meet the first Space Force basic training graduates in mid-December. There were seven and they were interspersed in a Basic Training Flight at Lackland Air Force Base. The chief said that through the rest of the winter that six or seven Space Force personnel will be in training flights. “In the summer, we will have larger classes and we anticipate having full Space Force flights,” he said.

The Space Force has changed about nine hours of instruction in basic training for Space Force personnel. He said the service will make incremental changes as needed, moving forward. He does not anticipate the Space Force getting its own dedicated basic training program. 

Most of the Space Force will be based in the United States, but small guardian teams will deploy to overseas hotspots, as needed, he said. 

The Air Force has no warrant officers — a decision made when the service was formed. The Space Force will study the warrant officer program to see if it is something they want to adopt and adapt to their circumstances, the chief said.

Other personnel aspects include possibly giving former enlisted personnel a higher officer rank once they finish officer training. “If I take a senior NCO with 15 years of experience and he/she goes to OTS, am I really going to make that person, with that experience, be a second lieutenant,” Towberman asked. “Maybe there can be a sliding scale for personnel like that.”

Space Force 2nd Lts. Amy Coba and Elizabeth Kowal, graduates of Air University’s Officer Training School Class 20-08, recite the Space Force oath of office at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., Oct. 16, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jackson Manske)

The Space Force will probably walk away from Air Force enlisted professional military education. Space Force has “inherited” the NCO Academy at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. That will become the Space Force Leadership School to start, and Towberman anticipates a Space Force senior NCO Academy growing out of this in the years to come. 

Right now, the Space Force is made up solely of active duty personnel. “The reality is that we need the [National] Guard and [Air Force] Reserve today,” he said. “We can’t get our mission done without them.” Space Force leaders are looking for ways to incorporate these important assets into the force, he said.

Another aspect the leadership would like to address is the fact that it has been 20 years since there’s been a targeted pay raise. This means “while the talent and the abilities of our enlisted force has grown year by year-by-year, the difference in pay between E-5 and O-5 has also grown,” Towberman said. “That needs to be addressed.”

Space requires highly educated guardians. The force must be willing to pay for that expertise. Towberman said the service will look at special incentives and skill-based pays. 

“I believe a lot in the concept that if you take care of people well enough so that they can leave, many of them will decide that they don’t want to,” the chief said. “That’s going to be our focus. Our focus is going to be on culture, our focus is going to be on giving them the kind of autonomy, the kind of training and development they need.”

The Space Force could give its guardians “an opportunity to change the world,” the senior enlisted advisor said. “That’s an important mission, and we should all be proud to have this opportunity.”
 
 
 

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