‘Connection Toward Unity’: Guardian Wins Polaris Award for Championing Space at USAFA (Image Credit: airandspaceforces)
The Space Force’s Polaris Awards annually recognize Guardians who best represent the Guardian Spirit. There are four individual award categories based on each of the core Guardian values—Character, Connection, Commitment and Courage—and a Team Excellence category that combines all four values. Air & Space Forces Magazine is highlighting each of this year’s winners before they receive their awards on stage at the 2024 AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo.
The U.S. Space Force selected Maj. Jessica M. Pratt of the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Wing in Colo. as the winner of the Polaris Award for Connection for “developing, growing, and sustaining connections while treating everyone with dignity, empathy, and respect” in 2023.
Pratt played an integral role in the second year of USAFA’s Azimuth Space Program, a summer program designed to give USAFA cadets and ROTC cadets from all services a taste of a potential career in space operations. Azimuth started as a single two-week course in 2022 but, largely due to Pratt’s leadership, expanded into three separate three-week courses in 2023.
“This was really exciting because it was [USAFA’s] first space summer program and [first] Space Force summer program,” Pratt said. “We were pretty lucky that it was [in] Colorado, because there [are so many] Space Force units and commercial space [partners]. Everybody we reached out to was bending over backwards to invest in the cadets.”
Connecting with Guardians and space professionals from 105 agencies, Pratt built and mentored a 33-person cadre that spent the summer training more than 200 cadets from three service academies and 45 ROTC detachments across the nation on the diverse career fields offered by the Space Force.
Following the resounding success of the Azimuth program, Pratt reported that Space Force applications at USAFA have increased by 300 percent.
“Cadets are very interested in the challenges that Space Force is working on and probably just being part of something new, too,” she said. “Right now, the application process is very competitive at USAFA for Space Force. We have 100 slots, and we had [something like] 445 people apply for those 100 slots.”
Pratt also led a team of Guardians who developed and led USAFA’s first-ever space-domain scenario for the final exercise of the Academy’s senior class. The scenario exposed cadets to Space Force doctrine and how space is a crucial warfighting domain, an area of education that’s still growing at USAFA.
“Part of our goal was even just to expose the rest of the community cadets that will graduate into the Air Force and permanent party [who] just don’t know much about the Space Force yet,” Pratt said. “You know, [show them that] the space domain is a warfighting domain and here are some of the threats that we can talk about.”
Pratt said she looks for any opportunity to represent her Space Force career field at USAFA to help inspire cadets to consider joining the next generation of Guardians. Case in point, Pratt connected with Guardians from units around Colorado to produce static displays for the Air Force vs. Navy football game. The initiative helped demonstrate space capabilities to more than 35,000 attendees.
When asked about what motivates her to pursue the Guardian value of Connection in everything she does, Pratt said it’s a simple matter of loving the Space Force and its mission.
“I think so many people just haven’t had the opportunity to learn much about the space domain, whether they’re military or civilian,” Pratt said. “That’s why we do this job … The Space Force’s domain affects all levels of warfare and civilian life. So, it’s important in and out of a conflict, you know? Every day is important.”
Meet the other 2023 Polaris Award winners below:
- Polaris Award for Character: Tech. Sgt. Isabel Childress