Of Note

How Does the Army Space Community Acquire “War-Winning Talent”?

BY:  Wendy Mabry

Data scientists, artificial intelligence experts, robotics experts, nano-technologists, high altitude subject matter experts, hypersonic experts, does the Army need uniformed professionals who can serve as an interface between warfighters and the technological community? In a note from the Chief of Staff of the Army to the Secretary of the Army, the CSA stated “We have accepted too much risk in the technical and institutional talents needed for the Army in this era of great power competition.” In an effort to be the leader in acquiring the next generation of critical thinkers, the Army Talent Management Task Force has developed a Direct Commissioning Program that allows Branches and Functional Areas to commission well-qualified civilians with extra-ordinary talent to serve in the operational and institutional Army.

The Space domain is a warfighting domain with different characteristics from the air, land, maritime, and cyberspace domains. The National Military Strategy of the United States of America identified the space domain as a global commons; those portions of the Earth, outside national jurisdiction, all actors have the rightful access to. The FA40 Space Operations Officer must be able to synthesize complex information, anticipate operational and strategic challenges, and effectively communicate complicated options and solutions to senior Army and Joint leaders and deliver Space capabilities to the warfighter. The talent gaps that exist within the FA40 Community have been identified (not all inclusive) in the following areas: Satellite Operations, Modeling and Simulation, High Altitude, PNT (Positioning, Navigation, and Timing), System Architecture, Complex and Technical Strategic Portfolio Management, Capability Development and Acquisition, Orbital Mechanics, and Space Policy. Do these skills, knowledge, and talent exist in the civilian community?

The Direct Commissioning Program has four (4) documents that authorize proponents and personnel developers to market their community, choose candidates, interview candidates, and eventually put civilians in an Army uniform:

1. National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, Section 502 authorizes constructive credit for private sector training or experience upon original appointment as a commissioned officer.

2. Army Directive 2019-27, Direct appointment of officers up to the grade of Colonel (this applies to all branches /functional areas except the special branches).

3. HQDA EXORD 098-20, Direct appointment initial operational capability including a Micro Marketing Plan and Enhanced Constructive Service Credit.

4. FY21-23 Army Accessions Mission Memorandum, Direct commission for all components, Army Space Operations (FA40) FY21 = 2, FY22 = 2, FY 23 = 2.

In order to qualify for the Direct Commissioning Program, the Army awards constructive service credit to candidates who complete the appropriate education, training, and/or experience. This credit provides a candidate with the grade and date of rank comparable to a peer who began commissioned service immediately after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Appointment to the rank of Major and above will not be made without the recommendation of a board of officers convened by the Secretary of the Army. Appointments to the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel are reserved for the most experienced, critical, and meritorious applicants to fill operational needs. In order to award more than just a 1:1 ratio (i.e. 3 years of credit for 1 year of experience), the candidate must possess experience, training, or education in the talent gap areas identified above.

The Direct Commissioning Marketing Strategy charter has been a unified marketing plan to acquire war-winning talent for direct appointments. The Army Talent Management Task Force purchased a social media strategy that started with a GoArmy.com website, and a 90 day pilot on Linked-In. FA40 Space Operations was one of three communities who were targeted to participate along with Engineer and Cyber. Army Space received the least amount of “hits” because the nature/knowledge of Space Operations is not as widespread as the Engineer or Cyber fields.

Previously, the Army allowed qualified people to directly commission into certain special branches such as the Medical Corps, Chaplain Corps, and the Judge Advocate General Corps. For our efforts, we can use their experience and lessons learned to implement a strong and efficient Direct Commissioning Program in the Army Space Operations Community. As of December 2020, the Army Space Personnel Development Office (ASPDO) has received 34 candidates interested in Direct Commissioning. After further review and analysis, eight (8) of them meet the initial criteria and the Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence Commandant is currently reviewing resume’s to determine who will receive initial interviews.

The Army will be more competitive against near peer adversaries by creating opportunities for highly skilled individuals to enter the Army as officers up to the grade of Colonel (06). This allows the Army to leverage the strength of the American workforce.