Space Force Working on Changes to How It Develops Enlisted, Civilian Guardians (Image Credit: airandspaceforces)
ORLANDO, Fla.—The Space Force is contemplating major changes for how it develops its enlisted corps and large civilian contingent, top officials said Dec. 12 at the Space Force Association’s Spacepower Conference, after the service made several changes to how it develops officers.
“We did amazing work for our officer corps over the last few years,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jason Childers, senior enlisted advisor to the service’s Chief Human Capital Officer. “We’re starting to pivot a little bit towards the enlisted force.”
Specifically, leaders are looking at things like Professional Military Education as well as training and development opportunities.
For the officer corps, that meant implementing a groundbreaking partnership with Johns Hopkins University in place of the traditional war college concept and direct commissions to higher ranks for individuals with advanced degrees or experience.
Now, the service is looking at the rest its ranks.
“We’ve got to take care of the enlisted force,” said Maj. Gen. Shawn N. Bratton, the former head of Space Training and Readiness Command and soon to be deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs, and requirements. “Where are we going with the development of the enlisted force as they progress to senior NCO? And what do we think about bachelor’s degrees within the enlisted force? And how strongly do we feel about that?”
Both Bratton and Childers noted that the Space Force inherited many of its existing enlisted programs from the Air Force—but those structures don’t exactly fit the new service’s needs.
“When I went to basic training, it was all 18-year-olds right out of high school,” Bratton said. “That is not the force that we’re bringing in the Space Force. The average age is 22, many are married, many have some college, some have bachelor’s degrees into basic training. So that requires not only a different basic training, but also just a different development model.”
That in turn requires a fundamental re-examination of what is expected from the enlisted corps.
“We’re working hard right now … on really making sure we understand our sort of foundational roles,” Bratton said. “What does an enlisted member do in the Space Force? What does an officer do? What does a civilian do? What are the expectations of the different ranks? And are we delivering training and education at the right time? I think you’ll start to see some of that as we get into next year.”
Childers added that the service has temporarily stood down several school houses in the service to work on what he called a “bridging strategy” for future enlisted development.
“We’re really looking at the entire continuum of learning and development for the enlisted force,” Childers said. “There’s certainly some opportunities for partnerships with academia and industry there, as we look at, what is going to be inherently professional military education? What is going to be experiential? What are the other technical-type trainings? Then, what gaps are there in the competency modeling framework that we’re also working on that could be potentially met from academia or industry, to include possible accreditation for our training courses?”
The Space Force first outlined its move toward a “competency framework” for talent management in “The Guardian Ideal,” its human capital plan released in 2021, and further developed it in its 2022 doctrine publication on personnel. Expanding some of that competency training to outside partners would fit with the service’s mandate to be “lean, agile, and innovative” and exploit existing capabilities when possible.
But it is not just the enlisted force that could see changes. The Space Force has thousands of civilian Guardians, with a higher ratio than other services, and Bratton said he doesn’t want that portion of the workforce to be neglected.
What percentage of the civilian workforce wants to be developed—to come in as a college graduate and stay with the Space Force for an entire career, that may involve moving around? That is certainly not for everyone. But we think maybe it is for some people,” he said. “We’re sort of wrestling with that idea. Is the purpose of civilian employees there you identify the skills you need, and you go find someone with those skills and you hire them? Or should we swing that pendulum a little more into the development line on ‘hey, let’s give opportunities for development to our junior civilians to progress within the Space Force so we can keep that retention in the civilian force.’”
To make such a move work, the Space Force has to recognize the unique place its civilians occupy, added Damon S. Feltman, a retired brigadier general and now a civilian leader with the Space Development Agency.
“If we’re going to have a development program for our civilian Guardians, it has to help them understand that they’re actually kind of they have their feet in kind of two worlds,” Feltman said, referring to the different speed at which government and private industry can work.
Such distinctions could be especially important as the Space Force preps for a major overhaul of its personnel management system. The changes, finalized in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act that is expected to pass Congress in the coming days, would create a single component with both full-time and part-time Guardians, allowing individuals to more easily transition between the two.
Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman highlighted those changes during his own keynote address, showing off slides with three Guardians transitioning from military to civilian garb.
“Once approved, we’re looking to fully implement this new program as soon as possible, making sure our guidance policies on personnel management are aligned with the act, and that affected personnel have the information they need to make informed decisions,” Saltzman said.
Amid all these changes, Bratton emphasized that there is one “unquestionable thing”—the Space Force must grow beyond its current small size of about 16,000 personnel.
“We’ll keep working towards that goal. But we’ve got to grow deliberately,” Bratton said. If we grew 5,000 billets in year, we wouldn’t be able to get all those folks through training. And so there’s got to be a deliberate plan for growth. And I think that is some of the work that the headquarters staff owes you guys, on how are we going to do that.
“But there’s a lot going on right now. And I think you’ll start to see some of those changes coming in next year and the following year.”