Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper oversaw leadership changes for two combatant commands—U.S. Space Command and U.S. Northern Command—during back-to-back ceremonies at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., on Aug. 20.

Army Gen. James H. Dickinson assumed command of SPACECOM from USAF Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, who will remain the head of the U.S. Space Force, the Defense Department’s newest military service.

USAF Gen. Glen D. VanHerck succeeded Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy as commander of NORTHCOM, becoming North American Aerospace Defense Command’s boss as well. O’Shaughnessy, who has led the combatant command since May 2018, retired after 34 years in uniform.

SPACECOM’s handoff from Department of the Air Force to the Army leadership marks a new chapter in military space history. The Senate in June 2019 confirmed Raymond to re-establish and lead SPACECOM, while continuing to lead what was then Air Force Space Command. From the time SPACECOM officially stood up just two months later, Raymond said “it was clear after a tremendous amount of hard work, that we were just getting started. It was time to sprint—our national security demanded it.”

U.S. Space Command is “purpose-built to meet the demands of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, to compete and to deter from a position of strength,” said Raymond. “But if deterrence fails, this command is tailor-made to focus on enhancing our ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations in space, to further strengthen our partnerships with the Intelligence Community and with our allies, and finally, to enhance global warfighting and integrate it more seamlessly with our combatant command partners.”  

Dickinson, who received his fourth star during the ceremony, served as Raymond’s deputy at SPACECOM. He came on board in December 2019, four months after the command was revived.

“In the past year, we’ve installed an Air Force officer who became the first space member as the head of Space Command, and I’m thrilled to welcome its first truly joint leader, an Army officer, at the helm, Gen. James Dickinson,” Esper said. “Dickinson takes charge during an important time in our nation’s space enterprise, and I know that he possesses the expertise, the character, and the leadership to guide that command into the future.”

U.S. adversaries have turned the once-peaceful space domain into a warfighting domain by developing, testing, and deploying counter-space capabilities and planning for conflicts that might extend into the space domain, Dickinson said. SPACECOM’s mission is to deter such conflicts from taking place, and to enable the United States to continue to compete in space.

“However, should deterrence fail, our imperative is clear: We will win,” Dickinson emphasized.

“I believe our experiences make us who we are, and my career as an Army air defense artillery man has shaped my warfighting perspective … The warfighting mindset is inculcated into every member of the Army combat arms branches. … It is baked into our culture,” he said. “I pledge to you, that my focus as a commander will be on developing, nurturing, [and] embracing a space warfighting culture in every effort, every decision point, every initiative, or every tradeoff we make.”

The NORTHCOM change of command also comes at a critical time. Over the last year, O’Shaughnessy played a key role in the nation’s effort to battle the coronavirus pandemic, NORAD successfully intercepted 20 Russian aircraft in the Arctic, and he postured both NORAD and NORTHCOM to “confront any escalation of North Korean strategic missile launch activity,” Esper said.

Esper called VanHerck “another highly qualified leader” who has a “keen understanding of the nature of today’s threats.”

VanHerck, who also pinned on his fourth star during the ceremony, has accumulated thousands of hours in a variety of aircraft, including the F-15C Eagle, F-35A strike fighter, B-2A Spirit, and the B-1B Lancer. He’s commanded a weapons squadron, a training operations group, two bomber wings, and the United States Air Force Warfare Center. He comes to NORAD, NORTHCOM after having last served as director of the Joint Staff, where he was responsible for implementing the National Defense Strategy and “protecting our military strategic advantages,” Esper said.

“I’m confident that Gen. VanHerck will build upon Gen. O’Shaughnessy’s success to advance the homeland defense mission, inspiring and leading the men and women of these two great commands,” Esper said.