Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond (left) and Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman answered questions on April 16, 2020, during a virtual town hall forum. Credit: U.S. Space Force

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force next month will start accepting applications from current military service members who are interested in moving over to the new space branch. The initial window for applicants starts May 1 and only lasts for 30 days, officials said April 16 during a town hall event live streamed on Facebook.

The timeline seems fast, but it’s necessary so the Space Force can start planning its future, said Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman.

Towberman on April 3 was sworn in as the top enlisted leader of the U.S. Space Force. During the town hall forum, Towberman and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond answered questions on a range of topics, mostly on administrative and personnel issues.

Transferring to the Space Force in entirely voluntary, Raymond said. The Space Force anticipates that current airmen working as space operators or in other space-related jobs will be the first to volunteer to transfer. But members of any of the U.S. armed services can apply on the condition that his or her leadership chain of command is informed of the decision.

Towberman had to defend the 30-day window after hearing feedback that a month is not enough time to make a drastic career switch that could be life-changing.

Space Force leaders are aware of those concerns, he said. Towberman asked people who might be struggling to make a decision to email him directly. “We want to help,” he said.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Space Force had to suspend visits to military bases around the country but has made information available online to help service members make up their minds, said Towberman.

That said, if someone strongly believes they need more than 30 days to decide, Towberman said he wants to know the reason and will do as much as possible to assist that person in the decision process.

Service members who agree to transfer and are accepted into the Space Force have to make a two-year commitment to serve starting in September.

The 30-day application window is necessary so the Space Force can project how many people will join from the Air Force or other services and then determine how to move forward, said Towberman.

“We’ve got a service we have to plan for,” he said. “Every service knows their end-strength, how many people they have . We don’t have those answers until we get through this window and people say they’re in or they’re out.”

Until the Space Force has an estimate of how many people will volunteer to join, said Towberman, “we can’t plan accessions, we can’t plan recruiting strategies , retention levers, we can’t do any of the normal planning that any service needs to do,” he said. ‘We’re asking you to understand that.”

Towberman served in the Air Force for 30 years and rose to the top enlisted ranks when he was tapped by Raymond to become the senior enlisted adviser of U.S. Space Command and of the Space Force.

“For me it was a very personal decision,” he said. “I’ve been an airman for a long time. I knew what I had in the Air Force.” Towberman compared joining a new service to investing in a startup company. “There’s a little bit of wonder but there’s also a lot of excitement.”

Some of the questions at the town hall were about what the enlisted ranks will be called, what insignia and uniforms members will wear.

“We haven’t figured it out yet,” said Towberman. The Space Force has received thousands of crowdsourced ideas but nothing has been decided yet, he said. “We’re getting close.”

The pandemic is slowing down the timeline for making “celebratory” announcements, he said. There are other priorities that take precedence right now, he said.

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...