ORLANDO, Fla. — The vice commander of the U.S. Space Force Lt. Gen. David “DT” Thompson told a large audience of airmen on Feb. 27 that thousands of Air Force personnel who work in space-related occupations are expected to transfer to the newly created service in the coming years. But he insisted that nobody will be required to transfer if they choose not to.

The United States military has an all-volunteer force, and the Space Force will not be any different, Thompson said in a keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s annual winter symposium.

While it’s common knowledge that U.S. military service is entirely voluntary, there has been some confusion about how the Space Force ranks will be populated. Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act enacted the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces but did not allow the Pentagon to add more people and instead directed the Air Force to shift personnel and resources internally to form the space service.

“We’ll be asking people to volunteer to join the Space Force,” said Thompson. “To those who do not want to be part of the Space Force, we are not going to ask you involuntarily to join.”

Immediately after President Trump signed the NDAA on Dec. 20, the Air Force Space Command was renamed U.S. Space Force. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett temporarily detailed about 16,000 airmen that worked under AFSPC to the U.S. Space Force. The space service will rely on Air Force detailees until a new personnel administrative system is in place and people can officially leave the Air Force and re-enlist or be recommissioned into the Space Force.

Thompson said the assignment of 16,000 airmen to support the Space Force is only the starting point. Officials would like to bring over airmen from other organizations such as training, materiel and doctrine commands, as well as space operators from the Army and the Navy. The secretary of defense has the authority to shift units or functions from one service to another but the individuals who hold those jobs can’t be forced to transfer, Thompson insisted.

That said, Thompson predicted the Space Force will have no trouble attracting transferees and newcomers.

“Our problem is not going to be recruiting,” he said. It has already become apparent that the Space Force will face an oversupply of candidates, Thompson added. The challenge will be to select the right people, said Thompson.

He noted that in early January the Space Force posted job openings for 31 civilian positions in the office of Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond. To date, 5,722 candidates have applied.

Help needed with public outreach

Thompson asked the audience at the Air Force Association event to help spread the word about what the Space Force does, as there are still significant misconceptions.

He called it unfortunate that in the weeks since the Space Force was enacted “far too many people in the general public and in the national security leadership are asking this question and are asking it seriously: ‘Now that we’ve created this thing called Space Force, what’s it going to do for us?’”

Too many people had Star Wars visions in their minds about Space Force troops fighting Russia and China in outer space, he said. “Far too many people truly don’t understand what space power is, and what it means for national security.”

He called on the Air Force Association and the defense industry to help lead a campaign to educate the public on what Space Force is, what it does and why it’s critical to the security of the nation.

Thompson offered three examples — which he has mentioned in previous engagements with news media — of what the Space Force does that help illustrate the role of the service.

When Iran in January fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. military installations in Iraq, “members of the U.S. Space Force detected those missiles at launch and provided early warning to our forces,” he said. When two satellites almost collided over Pittsburgh last week, the U.S. Space Force was monitoring the situation. If those satellites had posed a threat, it would have been the responsibility of the U.S. Space Force to warn satellite owners and operators, Thompson said. And everyone who uses GPS should be reminded that they are operated by the U.S. Space Force.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...