Aerospace Job Titles – A Bit Like Naming Cats

Career Advice cat

Guinea pigs and cats by Bigstock

“The naming of Cats is a serious matter.
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”

That quote Is from T.S. Eliot’s “The Naming of Cats.”  If you like musicals, then you’ve probably heard it in “Cats.”  But this poem’s premise could be applied to the aerospace job titles category, too, and not just because it was quoted in “Logan’s Run.”  Names matter when looking for a job, and the space operations career field has at least three different names which poses some interesting problems.

Space operators, at least in the United States Air Force (USAF), are in a naming dilemma.  The USAF, in its wisdom, paints a broad swath of its force with the “space operations” paintbrush.  For officers, it all begins with a “13S” designation (at least it should, but that’s part of the problem).  For the hardworking enlisted folks, “1C6.”  But as many involved in the space operations field know, not everyone is equal in that career field.  And of course, the USAF changes the definition every now and then of what it means to be a space operator.  I will approach this from the officer’s angle, as this is what I’m familiar with.

“…First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily…”

When I joined the USAF, I initially started out as a “Missileer.”  I was a 13S3C.  This was, at the time I was in the USAF, considered to be “space operations.”  Funny thing about that concept though–I was an InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launch officer.  The only thing “spacey” about my job was the fact the missile just so happened travel through space for a very short time on its way to a target on the Earth.  I was really just a fancy “long-range” artillery officer who could levy Armageddon with the twist of a key.

The ICBM systems I worked with and skills I developed could be translated to space systems, as I found later in my career.  The command and control systems, it turns out, had some similarities to space ground systems.  Monitoring changes in health and status were part of the Missileer’s job.  So was commanding the launch capsule and missile systems.  Configuration control?  Absolutely!  And some satellite operators accomplish the same sorts of duties.

But in the end we weren’t really “space” space operators.  And the USAF made that clear in its latest guide to officer classification codes.  Missileers are now 13N officers.  But we weren’t the only ones who had to deal with this sort of “name game.”  Some acquisitions officers (6XX) were also deemed space operators at one point—even with the number prefix being different from the 13S.  I believe this has been rectified.  Unfortunately, there are Missileers and acquisitions officers who drank the whole bowl of Kool-aid and truly believe they are space operators.  This mindset may hinder their search for a job.

“…a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,…”

True space operations are a little confusing, though.  You have different kinds of space operators:   payload operators, spacecraft operators, crew commanders, crew chiefs, intelligence professionals, ground systems specialists, etc.  All can be space operations as far as the USAF is concerned.  Add the other services and government agencies into the mix, and things get even more confusing.  GEOINT analysts, collection managers, requirements management, Mission Directors—all have been and can still be considered space operators.

There’s a problem then, when any one of these folks look for a job.  Some people’s experiences were quite specific, so they know exactly what to look for.  But there are others, like me, who experienced and conducted space operations in a broader way.  And some, even though they were labeled as space operators, didn’t touch any sort of operations console at all.  It’s not just confusing for job-seekers, but employers as well.

“…But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,…”

Why say all of this?  As the saying goes, the first step to solving a problem is to admit one exists in the first place.  The problem:  one name applied to all these different jobs complicates things, for job-seeker and employers. The challenge to all the space operators is to “know thyself.”  Once a job core, a specific skill or experience is figured out, the story of a person’s career can be told more coherently.  With clarity the job will eventually come.  T.S Eliot answers this, too, right near the end of “The Naming of Cats:”

“His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:…

…Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”

John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for Clearancejobs.com, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.