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News | May 20, 2020

Growing tomorrow’s Army space operations officers

By Cecil Longino U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – In 2019, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Army Space Personnel Development Office proposed a pilot Assured Functional Area Transfer program to provide future Army officers the opportunity to become Functional Area-40 space operations officers after successful service within a basic branch.

The pilot group of 20 seniors, seven West Point cadets and 13 ROTC cadets, who were selected for the AFAT pilot began graduating last weekend.

“AFAT is essentially ‘branch detailing’ for a functional area,” Gerald Pepin, ASPDO acting director, said. “It allows cadets with science, technological, engineering, mathematics and unique space-oriented degrees, such as space science and geospatial information sciences, the opportunity to become space operations officers following successful service within a basic branch. The program provides an opportunity for them to lock in a career in Army space operations.”

Col. William Starr, commandant, Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence, said they add AFAT candidates to the FA-40 roster, send them space operations updates, and provide them access to the ASPDO knowledge management site and online space forum.

“Identifying college seniors with space aptitude and staying connected with them throughout their first four years in the Army, will ensure quality candidates attend and graduate from SMDCoE as qualified FA-40s,” Starr said.

Pepin added that now that the seniors have graduated, they will be invited to attend Army Space Cadre Basic Courses held near their duty stations, and ASPDO will budget for their paid attendance in the future.

“We will also sponsor them for and prompt them to begin their top secret clearance process as they near the window for transfer to the FA-40 career field so they possess a clearance prior to transfer,” he said.

Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, deputy commander, U.S. Space Command, virtually commissioned one of these cadets, Darien Cupit, a computer science major who will begin his Army career in military intelligence, during Colorado State University’s ceremony.

Dickinson, the Army’s senior member of USSPACECOM, fully understands the roles and responsibilities of FA-40s and the crucial contributions they make to ground combat.

“Over the past 20 years, the Army has emerged as the largest user of space capabilities in the Department of Defense and currently leverages space capabilities to increase combat power from the strategic to the tactical level,” he said. “Establishing a pipeline that allows a guaranteed path to becoming an Army space operations officer is absolutely the right thing to do, and I applaud ASPDO’s initiative in making it happen.”

Using talent-based branching, ASPDO identified cadets with functional area-specific talents, specifically space-related STEM degrees. Candidates for AFAT were then personally interviewed by a panel consisting of senior FA-40s and civilian space professionals. This process helped ensure selected candidates were a good fit for the career field, and the career field was a good fit for them.

Now commissioned, these AFAT pilot officers serve in a basic branch and are ensured the ability to transfer to the FA-40 branch after 36-48 months of service.

In February 2020, ASPDO briefed Dr. Casey Wardynski, the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; representatives from the Army G-1; and the Army’s Talent Management Task Force on the AFAT pilot program. ASPDO explained how the program allows the Army to identify cadets to become FA-40s earlier than the Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program currently allows.

Wardynski approved continuing the pilot program for FA-40, and the Talent Management Task Force is currently working to allow at least six other Functional Areas to participate.