Fire Watch Episode 1: Making A Space Troop

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July 30, 2022
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Episode Introduction

How is the military making space troops? Fire Watch looks at the military’s newest service, how the Space Force is building its own identity in the long-established shadows of the other military branches and how Guardians are trained, from cradle to star amid a renewed 21st century competition in space.

Main Topics

  • Thomas Novelly, Military.com Space & Air Force reporter, breaks down the newest service’s efforts to get onto the main stage and what Space Force boot camp looks like.
  • Chief Master Sergeant Roger A. Towberman, the senior enlisted leader of the Space Force, tells Fire Watch what star stuff makes a Guardian.
  • Hosts Drew F. Lawrence and Rebecca Kheel talk about other important military stories for July 15.

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Transcript:

SPEAKERS

CMSgt. Roger Towberman, Maria Pryde, Drew Lawrence, Thomas Novelly, Gen. John Raymond, Rebecca Kheel

Drew Lawrence

For military.com. My name is Drew Lawrence. It is July 15. And this is Firewatch. The Space Force, the Defense Department’s newest military arm, is just two-and-a-half years old – a toddler in the shadow of services like the U.S. Army that have been around for centuries. In recent months, we’ve seen the Space Force, whose troops are called “Guardians,” form their identity into something new, different – an identity that is under intense scrutiny as the new kid on the block – from lawmakers in the U.S. and adversaries abroad as the world enters a renewed 21st-century space race.

Gen. John Raymond

At the heart of any service is its people. We are our growing Guardians to operate effectively in this domain called space.

Drew Lawrence

That was Gen. John Raymond, Chief of Operations for the Space Force. My colleague, Thomas Novelly, spoke to him, and others, as he wrote a three-part series about his time reporting on the Space Force in San Antonio where Guardians who were part of the first ever all space force basic training are shielded from, but nonetheless affected by, the ongoing shaping of what the Space Force is going to be as they spend seven and a half weeks becoming the embodiment of the new branch.

Drew Lawrence

That’s the major question right there for the American public to understand what the Space Force is, what do they do?

Thomas Novelly

So I think let’s start with kind of what the Space Force isn’t. It’s not NASA, it’s not some sci-fi enterprise story of like, digging trenches on the moon and bringing laser guns to Mars. And, it’s not like Independence Day fighting aliens, you know. The simplest way I can describe it is that the Space Force is a military service branch, just like the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and ultimately, its mission is to protect America’s satellite fleet in space. And in America, satellites are critical for I mean, everything that affects our everyday lives, whether that’s, you know, GPS on your iPhone to or, you know, taking $20 out of an ATM machine, or even understanding the weather or being able to predict the weather.

Drew Lawrence

So the Space Force is very new. It’s only two and a half years old, and we’re seeing near peer adversaries like China make progress in the space domain. Do you think that there is a new space race? And if so, how does the Space Force kind of fit in all of that?

Thomas Novelly

The Space Force is ultimately focused on setting up all of those details, structures, traditions, to start an independent service branch. I mean, it’s a daunting task when you think about it. You know, to quote Field of Dreams, right? It’s kind of like if you build it, they will come. The whole idea is that if you separate a service branch that’s focused on space, you can fast track the ability to acquire new technology from tech companies, right, with military contracting. And you can lead the way to help the US compete against people in Russia and China. So in short, yeah, there is there is a space race happening. Absolutely. It’s one that’s been looming for quite some time with China and Russia, both signaling that they are really trying to innovate when it comes to technology and space.

Drew Lawrence

You mentioned Field of Dreams, right? And you have to have people to kind of man that field. You got an inside look into The Space Force you talk to Guardians for over the last three months, and you then went down to Texas for a few days to kind of see their basic training, you got to see how that mission gets drilled into its newest members. Set that scene for us. Where were you? What did it look like? Who do you talk to?

Thomas Novelly

You’re right, the Space Force, when you think about setting up a service branch, the first thing that should come to mind is the enlisted, the backbone, the identity of your service branch. But I think that’s what’s great about military.com, right as our newsroom is focused on reporting how policy affects people. So you know, I wanted to get in on the ground floor, I wanted to hang out with those new recruits, who ultimately made the choice to sign the dotted line for a service that’s very new, and that doesn’t have a huge public identity yet. I traveled San Antonio, Texas for a couple of days, I went to joint base San Antonio Lackland Air Force Base over there, and the Air Force has been conducting basic military training for airmen there for decades. And now, just recently, the Space Force has started their new basic training program there as well. So I got to be with them. For every classic moment that somebody who enlists in the military goes through during boot camp, right, I was able to see them on the PT track, I was able to see them, prep their foot lockers in the dormitory, watch them load up their plates to the chow hall when they were hungry, you know, and I got this full experience kind of for what their life was like for bootcamp.

Drew Lawrence

Okay, so you got the full experience? Do you? I gotta ask, did you do PT with them?

Thomas Novelly

Oh, man. No, I did not. So here’s the thing. They got, they got the track out there. We got up really early at like four in the morning. They’re all wearing, you know, the PT uniforms. And I thought about it for a minute. And I just didn’t want to be a little embarrassed. So my push ups and sit ups are okay. The 1.5 mile run would have absolutely gassed me. So I was like, I can’t do this man, if I tried to run a mile and a half, which I’ve definitely put off really during the pandemic, I would have been gassed, they would have had to bring up the medic. I didn’t want that to happen. So while they were getting after it, I was watching from the sidelines.

Drew Lawrence

I were joking around but I it’s interesting. You mentioned the PT aspect of this because you had some interesting things to say about the Guardians and what their PT looks like, based on their mission set. What’s the difference between the Space Force and the Air Force as a Space Force builds this new identity? You know, how does that look like when it comes to PT? How does it look like when it comes to the mission set? What’s the difference?

Thomas Novelly

I think the other thing that you want to point out here is that the Space Force is underneath the Department of the Air Force, right? So they’re the sister service to the Air Force. And the Space Force, therefore is relying very heavily on the Air Force’s very expansive resources. But ultimately, I mean, the physical training is the same that that an enlisted airman would go through and what the Space Force would go through. There are some subtle differences though, there’s more of this notion in the Space Force of acceptance and a little bit of leniency. In the Air Force, for example, you aren’t called an airman until graduation day, but in the Space Force, you’re called a Guardian from the moment that you hop off the bus. So it’s kind of like that, that title that feels like you’re accepted immediately versus that tradition that exists with the other service branches. But

Drew Lawrence

we’ve seen with other branches, there’s a lot of criticism in terms of readiness, physical fitness, you know, the Army has had this years long saga with the Army combat fitness test, how’s the Space Force toting that line? How are they matching their mission set to the readiness, or the physical fitness or the classroom time of their subset.

Thomas Novelly

They care about physical fitness in the element that they care about wellness, right, they want people to be healthy. And I don’t think there will ever be a scenario where like the Space Force waives certain physical requirements completely. But I think the ultimate focus is making sure that somebody is well, that they have a razor sharp mind, because their mission as it is, is often in front of a computer screen, one that’s monitoring a lot of data, one that’s monitoring a lot of action in space – tracking satellites, but I think when it relates to physical fitness, I mean, we think about the reputation the Marines have, or the Army has, or even the elite forces in the Navy have. And I think that reputation is a little bit different. I think there were moments where there’s people who heard about the Space Force, and maybe they felt the task of joining that culture of the Marines or the army, especially with that heavy emphasis on physical excellence was a little bit you know, intimidating to them.

Drew Lawrence

So you talked to several members, several Guardians, as it were going through this process, you talked to one guardian, Maria Pryde, who’s 32 years old. She’s from Belarus, she has an incredibly interesting path to San Antonio. What can you tell us about her and some of the other recruits that you met during this basic training?

Thomas Novelly

That was the one element of the story that I cared a lot about. And that was being able to lock down the human element of the story, if you will, meaning that, you know, I want to know some people and their personal backgrounds and how they’re affected by this new branch, what encourage them to join the Space Force. Maria Pryde had an excellent story. She she lives in Brooklyn, New York, but like you mentioned, she’s originally from Belarus. And she had this lifelong desire to join the military. But of course, you know, she had to be a US citizen. So she waited patiently for her citizenship paperwork to clear but while she’s waiting, and she had first thought about maybe joining the Air Force, Space Force is created.

Maria Pryde

First time I heard about it was when they were announcing it a couple of years ago, I don’t remember exactly. When I went to a recruiter, she told me that actually, the Space Force is hiring women and this new elite force is taking the best of the best of the best, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of it? I couldn’t say no to that. But it was a great decision.

Thomas Novelly

And it’s something that really interests her, she has a deep fascination with space. And, you know, she also wanted to join something, a service that may have been more accepting,

Maria Pryde

I only told a very small group of people, just my wife, basically, my mom is very, very proud of me that I’m that fortunately, sometimes it comes to some jokes, because some people think that it’s almost like not real. And I have to explain to them that it very much is actually, a very interesting field and very interesting profession.

Thomas Novelly

So the Space Force ultimately checked those boxes for her. And, you know, I think that was a common thread for a lot of the recruits and Guardians that we spoke with,

Drew Lawrence

You ask other branches about the Space Force, and you hear a lot, you know, they’re thought of as nerds or desk jockeys. I know, within our own newsroom between me and Konstantine and Steve Bannon, about some of the inter-branch rivalry and ribbing that we do on our own – is that, you know, kind of symptomatic of this inter-branch rivalry, or, you know, are recruits really like that, or is it more? What’s closer to the truth?

Thomas Novelly

I think there’s a grain of truth to it, for sure. These Guardians are very smart. Like I mentioned earlier, they had to score very high on their aptitude test to get into these career fields. But a lot of that intelligence, and a lot of that interest in the Space Force also comes from this deep fascination they have with space. And I think also they partner that deep interest in the unknown and space also with a deep respect for their country, and an even stronger desire. Many of them are also unapologetic nerds. I mean, I think there is a little bit of truth to that, right, that there are some stereotypes about the Space Force. I mean, during basic training, we talked about how, during the free time some of these Guardians like to play Dungeons and Dragons, for example, but I think this recruiting for Space Force appeals to a demographic that may have never been reached by the military before. General Raymond, for example, he told me in an interview that people that have been interested in enlisting, have come up to him before and said, hey, you know, I was never interested in joining the military before, but I’m interested in the Space Force.

Drew Lawrence

So we had 71 graduate out of the 72 in the class that you observed. What did that graduation look like?

Gen. John Raymond

Reflecting just I think it’s over a year ago, we were here with the first seven.

Drew Lawrence

This is General Raymond, again, head of the Space Force.

Gen. John Raymond

We have 7227 active-duty Guardians today, now that these 71 have come in. So it’s a pretty significant percentage of our force. And it was really cool to see the excitement

Thomas Novelly

It’s worth noting that it’s not every day you get to see the leaders of your branch at an enlisted bootcamp graduation. So that was a big deal. And I think it was a historic moment because this was the first time that Space Force had a boot camp that was separate and independent of Air Force boot camp Guardians were just basically attached to Air Force basic training units, and they were going through basically the same process. So now they started creating a separate thing that was a little bit more independent. So you had Space Force Guardians who, you know, we’re being taught by space for was bootcamp instructors by, you know, drill sergeants, and then that were in the Space Force. And they were having their own classroom time, they were all staying together in the same dormitory. So there was those moments of independence, right? That we are a part of something that is unique and a little bit different than the Air Force. So General Raymond and Chief Towberman wanting to be there, to kind of celebrate that that milestone.

Gen. John Raymond

And I think the thing that I like best was being able to talk to our new Guardians, hear their excitement and hear why they came into the Space Force. We’ve got some great, great American men and women that have entered our ranks. And so it’s a big day for us.

Thomas Novelly

In some ways, I think that’s emblematic of what the Space Force is also marketing and pitching itself as they can have a more smaller and more personal experience for some of their service members as compared to say, the army. You know, I mean, this class Guardians can be able to say, I shook General Raymond’s hand, I shook Chief Towberman’s hand, and there might be a chance where you know, in other services, you may never see the head of your service. So I think that was also a moment where the Space Force took a lot of pride to be able to offer that opportunity to those Guardians.

Drew Lawrence

Thomas Novelly, thank you so much for joining the show.

Thomas Novelly

Thanks so much, Drew anytime.

Drew Lawrence

Up next, we’re talking to the senior enlisted leader of the Space Force, Roger A. Towberman. And we’re asking what’s next for the DoD’s newest branch.

If you like Tom’s report on the Space Force, go ahead and check out his full series at military.com. There, you can check out some other stories that our talented cast of reporters have told over the last couple of weeks. And if you like this podcast, you also might like the PCS podcast, which is hosted by our executive editor, Amy Bushatz. She gives you the tips and tricks for your next military move. Wherever you get your podcasts.

You’re about to hear Chief Master Sergeant Roger A Towberman. He’s the senior enlisted leader of the Space Force. And as the top enlisted leader, he’s going to tell us about the making of Guardians and why they’re important. Take a listen.

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

Hey, Drew, can you hear me?

Drew Lawrence

Hey, Chief, I can, how are you?

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

I’m good. How are you? I don’t know. My holding a phone. But hopefully it works.

Drew Lawrence

That’s alright, you sound good. I can hear you great. How are you doing? It’s great to meet you.

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

Good. Yeah, it’s good. Thanks for wanting to talk to me, I appreciate it.

Drew Lawrence

So I’ll get right into it. military.com just spent some time at the all the first all Space Force basic training. And I wanted to ask upfront what type of person you are trying to attract to the Space Force,

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

I want to look for people that maybe aren’t necessarily think they’re going to be looked for. Right. And I think that when folks tell our story, and we get a little bit out of the echo chamber, we speak to new ears, and, and hopefully new hearts and new minds. And so we really are interested in anyone that that wants to serve that has a passion for space that wants to use their intellect, you know, for the good of the nation for the good of the world. And really looking for people that are that are curious, and, and, and excited about the future, you know, maybe maybe more than anything. And so I do think it’s really important that we’re talking to everyone, because you never know when you’re going to where you’re going to find those people.

Drew Lawrence

We got to look at a couple of pipelines for some of these recruits that were coming in. And they seem unique and a little bit different. What makes a Space Force recruit different from those joining any of the other services?

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

I’m not really sure I’m not paying a lot of attention to to the other services, I hope that will make some difference that they truly want to be a Guardian. In other words, I don’t want somebody wanting to join the Space Force. You know, for benefits, for instance, I’m certainly happy that we have those benefits, we’re going to keep … I want them to be passionate about what we believe in, I want them to have read the Guardian Ideal. And I want them to feel like hey, serving as a Guardian. Sounds like my jam, you know, like this is what I’m interested in. I’m interested in, in a growth mindset. I’m interested in being connected to other people I’m interested in and being committed to growing and improving. And so to me, I think what’s unique is just that they picked us and that there’s a relationship there between that individual and between the institution. I don’t know that that makes them any different, really from any other service because I would hope that that that’s true of every Marine has a relationship with the Marine Corps and every soldier has a relationship with the Army. What makes them unique is that they want to be Guardians, they want to be in the Space Force.

Drew Lawrence

So adding a new branch of services is expensive. And, you know, we’ve seen some members of Congress, you know, caution about the growing Space Force budget, one, you know, even going as far last September is to create a standalone bill to abolish it. The question comes up is, you know, why is developing and creating this branch important to the taxpayer? What is important for them to know about the Space Force?

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

Yes, so I think what’s important to know is that the average American using space, you know, multiple times before their first cup of coffee in the morning that, you know, imagine, grab your phone and look at the locational services, and how many of your apps require precision navigation and timing that we get from a GPS constellation, or how many times you use GPS to navigate or how many times you check the weather from space-enabled weather satellites, or, you know, on and on, like, it really is kind of space is, is intertwined and interconnected to literally everything that we do in, in modern life. And so, so it really is that important and from a Department of Defense perspective, a very, very small sliver of the defense budget, I think, I think less than 3% last time I checked. So certainly, we need to be minding the budget like everyone else, when you think about what America and the world gets for such a relatively small percentage of the of the pie. I really believe that, that the Space Force is kind of a bargain. And I think we’re, we’re really churning out a lot for the world. For for a fairly small amount of money.

Drew Lawrence

Going to the DoD side, there’s been a lot of talk about, you know, the great power competition in the past few years. In December, General David Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations, said China was of particular concern when it came to military space developments. How does space play a role in that competition between China versus Russia versus the U.S.? And how does the Space Force fit into that competition?

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

Yes, I mean, I mean, this is what we’re here to do. Right? We are the experts, we are the specific skill set that the Department of Defense uses for space, for counterspace. And so, you know, unlike those other nations, we’ve got now a branch of service that is doing nothing but focusing on space. So the PRC has come a long, long way over the last 30 years. And in this maintains our advantage, it puts a very specific mission on a very specifically trained, skilled and experienced group of human beings with a task to defeat China if it comes to it, to deter China. Because we’re ready because we’re the best Space Force, Space Forces in the world.

Drew Lawrence

Chief Towberman, thank you so much for joining us.

CMSgt. Roger Towberman

Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate it. Sorry, we had a little connectivity issues.

Drew Lawrence

That’s all right. for taking the time.

We just finished a great interview with the senior enlisted leader of the Space Force. And now I want to introduce my co-host, Rebecca Kheel, who is also Military.com’s congressional reporter. She’s going to help us parse through some of Tom’s reporting, and the many other stories that have happened over the last couple weeks. Rebecca, over to you.

Rebecca Kheel

Well, thank you for the introduction, Drew. And Tom, I really enjoyed your series on Space Force basic training, I thought it really painted a picture of what this new service is all about. I especially love the detail about some of them playing Dungeons and Dragons. But you’ve also recently wrote a story on this new Space Force Intelligence Unit. And as somebody who covers Congress regularly, I know that they have been very interested in keeping the Space Force lean. So what is the significance of this new intelligence unit? And how does it fit into these concerns that Congress has been having about the size of the Space Force?

Thomas Novelly

Yeah, well, first of all, thanks so much for reading the Space Force series. That was a lot of words that I wrote to get it all together. But that little detail about Dungeons and Dragons was probably my favorite part of the entire series. It was just that one detail that made me smile, and I was like, Okay, this has to go in the story immediately. So thanks for picking up on that. I appreciate it.

And then with this story about the intelligence unit, it’s a relatively small development. Basically, the short version of it is Space Force is expanding its mission to get into the intelligence community, meaning that it’s using its satellites. Its resources. is to help gather intelligence on foreign adversaries, threats and space. And what this really means, though, in the larger context of the Space Force is that the Space Force wants to expand its mission. But Congress is constantly warning the Space Force about getting too big and being able to stay within its constraints overall. So that was one of the worries is that you know, how, if they keep taking on intelligence, they keep on taking different missions? Are they going to be able to maintain this growth over a long period of time when the whole purpose is to keep it small as a whole? So it right I think that the interesting part of that story is less about the intelligence unit itself. But that in the long run, Space Force is, you know, going to run into these headwinds in Congress. And as well with its own leaders, I mean, the Air Force Secretary has said numerous times that he kind of wants the Space Force to stay in a supporting role. And we see them often taking on larger missions, like intelligence and stuff, which signifies their interest in wanting to expand.

Rebecca Kheel

And you’re you’ve also been doing some really good reporting with our coworker Konstantine, about these two US veterans who went missing and are believed to have been captured in Ukraine. What can you tell us about what happened to these these people?

Drew Lawrence

Yeah, so that’s the that’s kind of the rub of it, right, is that there’s so much information, there’s an there’s an influx of information coming from different sources with different motives. What we can tell you is that last month, Alexander Drueke a 12-year Army veteran, and Andy Huyhn, who was in the Marine Corps for four years, they went missing, the State Department hasn’t come out and informally said that they were captured, they say reportedly captured, but we do know that they were captured by Russians or Russian backed forces. Alex, whose mother is Bunny, has been in contact with him many times, he’s made phone calls through State Department contact to Bunny while he’s being held captive in the DPR. And we really haven’t seen a lot from Andy — Alex in one of his latest calls to his mother talks about Andy how he see videos of him and they’re looking to make sure that he’s able to get in contact with his own family. But what we do know is that these two veterans traveled to Ukraine sometime in mid-April. And through there, they their intention was to join Ukrainian units to train and fight. They spent some time in the UIL, they bounced around some other units. And then they ended up in this unit called Task Force Baguette. Which Konstantine and I, that’s where a lot of the information and the influx of information comes in. We’ve talked to some members of that unit, we’ve talked to people who have supported that unit. And it’s a lot of information, there was a there’s a lot that has gone into this reporting. But what we do have is a pretty solid timeline of these two veterans, and hopefully, you know, with the families, talking to the State Department, they’re getting kind of a way forward to a resolution on this.

Thomas Novelly

Drew, I have to ask from a reporting standpoint, how hard was it to track down their families? What kind of role are their families taking in this? And you know, ultimately, just, you know, what, what are they? How are they feeling? How are the families feeling at this moment, because you know, when I read that story, that’s kind of the first thing that I think about is just what that would be like to experience if a family member of mine were in that situation.

Drew Lawrence

So finding the families actually wasn’t very hard and because for the most part they’ve been they’ve been vocal about wanting to get their sons or husbands or fiancé back from capture. So the families have been very open with Konstantine and I, they’ve Drueke family has led, really an initiative to be open with the press, doing their own press releases, as we’ve seen many times with hostage or capture situations there’s a member of the family that steps up. Where we did have trouble was once they got to Ukraine, and finding people to talk to you there because there is a concern about operational security, people not using their real names, people not being forthright about their backgrounds, which to them from an operational security standpoint, makes sense because, you know, they’re, they’re in a war zone, they need to care about those things. From a reporting standpoint, it means that there’s a lot more work for Konstantine and I have to do to get to the bottom of what happened when they eventually got to Ukraine and were captured. In terms of how the families are feeling. I’m not going to I won’t speak for them, but from what we’ve seen, they’ve, they’ve been strong they’ve been, you know, going on television, talking to the media, of course they’re worried, but through their press releases that we definitely get an air of, of strength from them, and action that they want to take to get their family members home.

But of course, you know, there’s so many things going on in the military the last couple of weeks. Obviously, we talked face force, we’re talking about these veterans caption in Ukraine. Two weeks ago, there was a incredibly important decision about Roe v. Wade, that has an effect on service members. Rebecca, you and Patricia did a really great job of kind of parsing this down for us and giving us an inside look into what the reversal of Roe v Wade looks like to your average service member. One thing that stuck out to me is the concept of readiness, right, and retention and recruiting. It’s something that the military talks about constantly, those kind of those three are words that are the commonplace there, what what can you tell us about the effects that Roe v Wade, and it’s, it’s it being overturned have on readiness, recruiting and retention?

Rebecca Kheel

Well, we’ll see how this goes going forward. But the big issue is that by federal law, the Defense Department is not allowed to perform or pay for abortions, except in very limited circumstances, specifically, in cases where rape or incest was involved, or the life of the mother is at risk. So what that means in practice is that most service members who need an abortion have to go off base to get it and have to pay out of their pocket to get it. And it was already pretty difficult to do that. But now on the service members that are stationed in states that are banning or severely restricting abortion will have to take leave to go out of state and that’s going to take longer, that’s going to cost more money. So if you’re a woman thinking about joining the military, or if you’re currently in the military, and you want, you know, or you’re of childbearing age, and maybe it could have an unintended pregnancy, you have to think about whether you want to stay or you want to join up if you’re not going to have these abortion rights that people in other states will have, especially you know, you as women in the military, you can’t necessarily choose where you’re based. So there are some efforts, abortion rights advocates are pushing DOD to make it easier for troops to get leave if they are seeking an abortion. There’s also an effort in Congress right now through the annual defense spending bill to try to ensure that commanders don’t deny leave for troops seeking an abortion or spouses or significant others that want to support their significant other who is seeking an abortion?

Drew Lawrence

I mean, can you give us an idea of the scope of this? Because, you know, the military is having an issue with recruiting as is. And that goes along with retention? How, you know, how many people realistically does this effect? And what are the after effects to recruiting and retention in terms of this reversal?

Rebecca Kheel

So what we know is that there have been 91 abortions performed in US military hospitals since 2016. But again, that only account for abortions that DOD was legally able to provide, which again, is rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at risk. We don’t know how many women have sought abortions outside of the military confines. But what we do know is that 20% of the active duty force is women. So potentially overturning Roe v. Wade could have a large effect on that population. So that’s obviously huge news that is affecting not just the military, the country, you know, is dealing with it as a whole as well. But we’ll keep an eye on what the effect going for it is. Tom, I want to turn it back over to you because you recently wrote about how the Air Force has reduced promotion opportunities for noncommissioned officers. What’s the significance of that and how is that going to affect the force going forward?

Thomas Novelly

It affects morale almost immediately. I mean, this affects the lower enlisted ranks more than anybody in the Air Force. If you’re someone who just joined and wanted to become a tech sergeant or a master sergeant. This really is kind of a crushing blow because they’re reducing those opportunities that are available. Basically, the Air Force went through between 2015 and 2021. A restructuring process Earlier, they were promoting lower enlisted ranks to NCOs at a very high rate. And so now what we’re left with is a lot of NCOs, a lot of NCOs with very little experience, meaning they just haven’t been in the service for that long. And now this means that there will have to be a hiatus because they want to see a force that’s a little bit more evened out between having noncommissioned officers and enlisted ranks. But you know, what that means is if you’ve joined, and you wanted to make a career out of being in the military, this is going to make it harder.

Drew Lawrence

In Tom, I just want to ask a follow up on that, because we, you know, as Rebecca and I just talked about the military as a whole is, is going through, you know, recruitment issues. What, you know, what effect does this have, in terms of the military’s recruitment and retention issues as a whole?

Thomas Novelly

Yeah, that’s a really good point that this really, ultimately, you can almost say that everything kind of goes back to retention and recruiting. But this in particular, where there’s a very clear statement from the Air Force, where they’re telling the force, hey, we’re going to be promoting fewer of you over a large period of time. And we want to see that there’s more junior enlisted service members than NCOs. In the future, that is going to be really difficult to make that sales pitch to somebody who’s coming out of high school and maybe wants to stay in for a while or wants to dedicate their lives to being in the military, you want to think when you sign the dotted line to join the Air Force? What does this mean for my professional development and being able to rise through the ranks. And so having a very clear statement from the Air Force saying, Hey, we’re sorry, we’re changing our thinking or changing our kind of belief system on this. And we want to pump the brakes. That’s really scary for retention. There’s people that were posting online quite a bit about this saying that they feel hopeless people who feel like they’ve been, you know, burning the candle at both ends and their military career, and hopes of being promoted to tech sergeant or master sergeant. And now that’s not going to be possible, or at least it’s going to be very difficult to to prove that you’re worthy of that next promotion.

Drew Lawrence

Tom, great work. And thanks for being a part of our first ever roundtable as we continue to build out Fire Watch, you’ll hear more from our reporters and experts on military news. And of course, me and Rebecca keel is your hosts

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