USAFA Graduates First Space Force Lieutenants

Nearly 90 newly minted second lieutenants are heading to the Space Force as its first company-grade officers, following their April 18 graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

They are among nearly 1,000 new graduates, with the balance commissioning into the Air Force.

For those 86 people joining the Space Force, the Class of 2020 joins the inaugural class of 1959 and the class of 1980, the first to graduate women, as groups changing the course of history.

“You are our future, and I need you to be bold,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond. He was joined on stage by Vice President Mike Pence, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and Academy leaders in an unusual, abbreviated ceremony designed by the cadets and defined by the social-distancing requirements of the time.

Watch a replay of the April 18, 2020, commencement ceremony, including video messages from supporters, here. Video: U.S. Air Force Academy on YouTube

No friends or family attended in person, and only cadets first class were present. The rest of the Cadet Wing was sent home in March to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduates marched at least 6 feet apart and leaders on stage were similarly separated from one another. But when the ceremony was complete and the Thunderbirds had flown overhead, hats flew skyward in the traditional celebratory salute.

Air and Space Force Graduation 2020
Cadets with the class of 2020 graduate at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 18, 2020, as the Air Force Thunderbirds perform a flyover. Photo: Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman

USAFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria called the day a “defining moment” in the academy’s history. Seniors spent their final weeks at the academy under strict rules restricting movement, gatherings, and trips off campus. They are also grieving the tragic suspected suicides of two classmates in March.

“In this time of trial and testing for you and for our nation, you have demonstrated courage,” Pence told the graduates. “You’re an inspiration to every American.”

Among the more than than 960 seniors earning their bachelor’s degrees and commissioning into the Department of the Air Force as second lieutenants:

  • 71 percent are men and 29 percent women
  • 30 percent identify as minorities
  • 13 were international cadets representing Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Tunisia
  • 485 were selected for pilot training
  • 11 were selected for combat systems officer training
  • 10 were selected for air battle manager training
  • 30 were selected for remotely piloted aircraft training
  • 536 will become rated officers in other careers

They bring the total number of USAFA graduates to more than 52,000 over the past 61 years.

The new second lieutenants will now be screened for COVID-19 and then depart the academy for their next training and postings.

Among the other military academies, the U.S. Naval Academy canceled its Commencement Week events scheduled for May, while the Army’s U.S. Military Academy at West Point plans to host President Donald Trump at a modified celebration for Army cadets. West Point’s website says graduation is still scheduled for May 23.