When the U.S. Air Force Academy class of 2020 graduates this coming Saturday, April 18 – which is six weeks ahead of schedule and will occur without spectators due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – not all of the 1,000 cadets will be heading to the United States Air Force. Out of some 950 cadets, a total of 88 will be commissioned as lieutenants in the newly created United States Space Force.
While the details of the Air Force and Space commissioning ceremonies are still being finalized, these 88 cadets will be the first officers to join this sixth service branch directly instead of being transferred from the United States Air Force. That number is actually an increase from the 60 or so cadets who were announced would be commissioned into the Space Force back in February.
To date however, Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond and senior enlisted leader Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman are the only two officials to have been formally sworn into the Space Force, which was formed in December following President Donald Trump’s signing of the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act.
Academy leaders and members of the Colorado’s congressional delegation announced the cross-commission plan back in February, and it would be similar to how the United States Naval Academy commissions Marine officers. Both the USAF and Space Force are organized as military service branches within the Department of the Air Force; much like how the U.S. Navy and USMC are part of the Department of the Navy.
As of this week the 11 AM graduation will take place at the center of the Air Force Academy’s campus, which will allow cadets to maintain a distance of eight-feet from one another. The ceremony will be streamed online so that family and well-wishers can tune in and watch remotely. Vice President Mike Pence will also deliver his remarks via a video link, while the Air Force Thunderbirds will make a single pass when cadets toss their hats into the air at the end of the ceremony.
This is the first class to graduate early from a federal military academy since the Second World War, and this was arranged so that seniors can take up their duties in the Air Force and the new Space Force.
Space Force Officers
As of yet it is still unclear what members of the Space Force will be called – in the United States Air Force service members are called “airmen” in the way that service members are called “sailors” in the U.S. Navy. Right now the focus is more on what the mission will be for those joining the service.
“Cadets are looking in anticipation of what the Space Force will actually be doing,” said Cadet Coen Williams in a podcast by the Space Force Association, hosted by Bill “Hippie Wolf,” the group’s founder and a retired Air Force colonel.
“I’m less worried about what I’m going to be called and what uniform I’ll wear,” added Williams. “Space minded cadets are extremely excited about the possibilities.”
Williams and his classmates won’t be alone when they are commissioned into the Space Force this coming Saturday. Earlier this month the Department of the Air Force identified 23 U.S. Air Force units that have space-related missions and as a result will be transferred to the Space Force. As a result of the transfer, approximately 1,840 Air Force billets will be transferred into the Space Force from across nearly two dozen units. That will include shifting space missions from the Air Force organizations into the Space Force.
The goal is to have each of the 23 space missions formally transferred from the Air Force into the Space Force within the next three to six months, but the transfer will not include the physical movement of units or billets to a different geographic location.
In addition, the status of civilians, as Department of the Air Force employees, will remain unchanged – and whether serving in the Air Force or Space Force billets, those individuals will remain DAF employees.