Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman on building a new culture: ‘I mean to get out of the way.’ Eric Dietrich/USSF
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Q&A: Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, Space Force Senior Enlisted Adviser

June 1, 2020

Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman is the first enlisted member of the new U.S. Space Force and responsible for forming a new enlisted force. He spoke with Air Force Magazine Senior Editor Rachel S. Cohen about Space Force planning. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How are you working to build a unique culture for the Space Force?

A. What I want to believe is that I don’t need to build anything. What we need for warfighting in the future, what we need as a service in the future, is already kind of ubiquitous in American young culture today. … I look at it more like unleashing the culture that they already have. When we talk about agility, we talk about speed, we talk about the first digital service … those things are present. I don’t need to build them, I need to kind of get out of the way.

With [Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright’s] help and the Air Force Chief’s Group on the enlisted side, we’ve been able to really handpick some Air Force talent. That team is already being challenged to think holistically about talent management. I don’t believe you can change a promotion system without it impacting other parts of career development. I don’t think you can change the way that you assess without changing the way you retire. Rather than me coming up with ideas and then having someone in the staff here try to champion those ideas up through the layers of others, I want them to come up with the ideas and then let me champion those ideas from the top down. I think that will help us move more quickly and see blind spots and second- and third-order effects to our individual decisions better than any way that I’ve seen done in the past.

Q. Space Force Vice Commander Lt. Gen. David Thompson mentioned interviewing potential Space Force employees because turnover will be so low that you can afford to be pickier. What might that look like?

A. On the enlisted side, we already do that. Recruiters sit down and interview every enlisted service member anyway, so it’s not a huge change for us, although we are going to be hopefully a little more deliberate. Just this morning, I sent an email to some of the recruiting planners to say, ‘Hey, … we’re small enough that we should be able to capitalize, through conversations and hopefully through artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc., to really start finding talent in America that maybe doesn’t even know their talent yet.’ To me, that’s the desired end state. If I can find greatness where you, as a young person, don’t even see that greatness in yourself yet, but I can see that it’s there and I can cut a deal with you that says, we’re going to develop that and we’re going to make you a better human being, better citizen, better Space Force professional than you even think you can be. To me, that’s a powerful recruiting message.

Q. How could the roles of enlisted Airmen change as part of the Space Force?

A. Initially, it’s going to be pretty much the same. Once you’ve been through an official school and we can put a patch on your shoulder, it changes your maneuver space as a warfighter. It improves your capability, but it also really improves your credibility at first glance. I think that will give us options to use NCOs and senior NCOs, in particular in the Joint Force, in different ways than we’ve used them in the past.

Q. Are you considering any new enlisted specialty codes in the Space Force?

A. We haven’t talked through that nuance too much yet. It seems counterintuitive that we would have Air Force specialties in the Space Force, right? I think there will have to be some new nomenclature. Some of this stuff in the human resource world is gonna change slower than we maybe would prefer, just because we’re beholden to current technologies. It’s trickier than one might guess to just say, ‘oh, don’t call them this anymore, call them something else.’ That may have impacts that reverberate through different systems. We’re being very careful, very deliberate about what we change and what we don’t change. Man, what a mistake it would be to change someone’s [Air Force Specialty Code] and have it all of a sudden cancel their reenlistment bonus because of some system that was connected to a code.

Q. Will enlisted personnel need to restart their service commitments if they join the Space Force?

A. [Currently], if you’ve got a promotion line number, we’re going to delay the start of your transfer until that takes effect, for instance, to keep those lines clean. If you have three years or four years left to serve on your current contract, then you will continue to serve that and we’ll transfer you over and that time will come with you. If [you have] less than two years, then we will ask you to take on that two-year Active-duty service commitment. … They’ve got the plan for each one of those individual circumstances, and for the most part, it might be unfair to say cosmetic, but for the most part, people won’t notice much of a change in their service.

Q. What policies like leave, fitness standards, etc., are you considering now? Anything different from what CMSAF Wright is doing in the Air Force?

A. I’m not looking at anything specific right now. It seems a little premature to do that, when we don’t even have another enlisted person in the service at this point except for me. We’re kind of letting the Air Force work through those, [but] I’m listening, I’m watching, and we have the best of both worlds. If there’s something they’re considering in the Air Force that we like, we’ll say, yeah, we’ll do that with you. If there’s something they’re considering that we think we’re maybe not ready for, we’ll be able to opt out.