Space Force Gets Ready to Train First Enlisted Recruits

Seven Space Force hopefuls will ship out this week to the service’s inaugural boot camp at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. The Space Force is piggybacking on the Air Force’s long-standing Basic Military Training process while it grows its own.

Those who graduate from the approximately eight-week program will become the first enlisted members the Space Force has trained itself, rather than importing personnel from the other services.

The pipeline starts with recruitment. The Space Force aims to bring in 312 enlisted recruits in 2021, and 300 to 500 a year after that as the service looks to maintain or grow its size. Those numbers are a fraction of the tens of thousands of new Airmen the Air Force brings in annually.

Chief Master Sgt. Shane Pilgrim, the Space Force’s chief of enlisted force development, said the service eventually plans to consolidate its space, intelligence, and cyber recruits into single cohorts at BMT. That would bring the average size of a Space Force basic training group to 30 or 40 instead of fewer than 10.

As they try to find the optimal class size, officials may find that smaller groups don’t bond as well as a bigger force, or that welcoming hundreds of recruits at once creates too much pressure later in the pipeline.

“Why do we have to choose? Maybe we do six at a time, and then … one time next spring, we’ll do a class of 30 and we see how that works,” Senior Enlisted Adviser Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman said. “It really is an ecosystem and everything’s connected to everything else. I can change something so that basic training works better, and it may make technical training work worse, or it may put the recruiters in a position where they’ve got to make compromises in order to meet the numbers that they need to keep us on track.”

USSF wants to reach out to communities and schools it hasn’t typically courted to find members. The Space Force wants to strengthen its ties to historically black colleges and universities so it can recruit a more diverse pool of future officers, and offer the enlisted path to people who choose not to finish school. It hopes to attract more women who are interested in science and technology fields as well.

“We are also targeting demographic areas in the country that are traditionally not fertile grounds for recruits,” Pilgrim said.

In contrast to military recruitment that heavily relies on standardized testing, the Space Force instead wants prospective members to interview with a recruiter and go through a personal assessment process. If they are chosen to join the service, the Space Force will issue them a tablet with some courseware and helpful videos about two months before they leave for BMT. Recruits will be paired with mentors who can answer any questions about joining the military.

“Because of our size and scale, we can do things on a more personal level,” Pilgrim said.

When they arrive at basic training, male recruits will join Air Force BMT groups with other men, while women will join female flights. They will regroup for space-specific training, an approach modeled by the special warfare field.

“All the [Air Force specialties] currently will do what is basically the Air Force basic training course, with some adjustments to the courseware to implement the space courses,” Pilgrim said. “We have three [training instructors] currently assigned to Lackland that are space professionals. So that’s how we’re building in these space experiences—having the flight led by a space TI, having specific courseware to space—but they are still going through Air Force BMT for all intents and purposes.”

The Air Force has gradually built more space knowledge into its education regime for all Airmen, teaching the importance of satellites and radars to the rest of the combat force. More specialized Space Force training will go even deeper.

Towberman charged a group of personnel experts to create a unique experience for recruits that focuses on teamwork, warfighter ethos, professionalism, and comprehensive fitness. The service wants its training to feel different from the other armed forces while introducing its newest members to military culture and the importance of space operations.

Recruits will face the same regimen as Airmen of lessons in personal conduct, physical fitness, and military fundamentals. On the space side, they’ll learn “law, policy, orbital mechanics, electromagnetic waves and signals, space environment, space systems, command authorities, and joint space warfighting,” according to a Space Force release.

“We looked at adding a course on our space organization, … [and] some stuff about our doctrine and our defense space strategy” to explain why the Space Force was created, Pilgrim said.­ The planning team wanted to create opportunities to discuss space dominance and orbital threats in an unclassified forum, and to cover the past several decades of military space history.

Recruits should likewise learn about the Space Force’s workforce, which relies more heavily on officers and civilians than the Air Force does, Pilgrim said.

“We also assessed whether some of the courses there, such as the combat arms training, were relevant in the current format to what we’re doing in our mission in the Space Force, and the expeditionary training as well, because our mission is different,” he added.

Space operations are less physical than other military specialties and require fewer deployments: “Our training should relate to what we do for our national defense mission.”

As the coronavirus pandemic has pushed education across the country online, the Space Force wants to make that shift to virtual learning a regular part of BMT.

The Space Force, the only branch of the armed forces launched in the computer age, pledges to break away from the manual processes that still dominate the military and think digital-first.

“We are going to incorporate some video-enhanced courseware, some stuff where we can actually leverage technology to bring the experience of current space professionals into BMT instead of the traditional PowerPoint,” Pilgrim said. “Either livestreaming panels or building pre-recorded videos of professionals talking about the different space competencies [are] some of the things we’re going to do.”

Pilgrim believes a tech-savvy approach can help recruits become just as prepared for their jobs as they would be with in-person instruction, in the COVID-19 era and beyond. Space Force trainees must follow the same precautions in place to prevent the virus’s spread, like face masks and physical distancing, as Airmen at basic training.

“Our tablet initiative allows us to stay connected without being physically connected as much to the recruits, prior to them coming to basic,” he said. “Once they get into that pipeline, they have established controls that are tried and true at BMT that will be implemented and will keep them safe.”

Over time, Space Force basic training could grow large enough to warrant its own squadrons and a fuller space curriculum. Everyone should have a basic understanding of space operations, whether they’re a satellite operator or an intelligence analyst, Pilgrim said.

“Gradually, we can build and morph into that. We need to run where we can and crawl where we need to,” he said. “As we get through a couple iterations of this, I think we will learn rapidly, and it’ll be a constant double loop where we go back and reassess.”

Once the space professionals—or whatever their formal name will be—graduate from BMT, they will head to one of three bases for further training in various specialties. Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., will host space operators; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., will receive cyber specialists; and Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, will train intelligence professionals.

The service is also actively bringing in new members through Officer Training School, the initial two-month course for college graduates who join the military. Two women on Oct. 16 became the first Space Force members to come out of OTS, which is also combined with the Air Force’s process.

“I feel like a pioneer going into a new realm of the military,” Second Lt. Elizabeth Kowal said in an Oct. 16 release. “This is literally the adventure of a lifetime and I can’t wait to jump in with everything that I have.”