Last weekend, the Twitter account of the newly established United States Space Force (USSF) featured two newsworthy items. One involved the successful test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch-abort rescue system. The other involved the acquisition of a small uniform modification. Guess which one trended most strongly on social media?
Here’s a hint: In a serious nation, the impressive engineering feat that may save the lives of future astronauts would have generated a lot of interest. But we are not a serious nation.
Here’s the tweet that blew up Twitter:
— United States Space Force (@SpaceForceDoD) January 18, 2020
Some commenters railed about the outrageous waste of taxpayer money represented by the “new uniforms.” Others just made jokes. Everyone agreed that it is foolish to use forest camouflage for people who are going to “fight in space.”
Of course, woodland camo would be good for fighting on the forest moon of Endor, but why should we deploy troops there? The Ewoks weren’t with us at Normandy.
Everyone needs to chill, and not just because it’s cold in space.
First, nametapes are not uniforms. They are strips of cloth with text embroidered on them. The picture in the tweet shows a standard combat uniform of the sort worn by hundreds of thousands of soldiers and airmen. (The other services use different camouflage patterns.) The nametape on the left breast says “U.S. Space Force” instead of “U.S. Air Force” or “U.S. Army.” That’s it. That is what the social media explosion was all about. There are no “new uniforms.”
Also, no one is going to be “fighting in space” in that or any other uniform for the foreseeable future. Space is a vitally important theater of military operations, and in recognition of that the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) was established in 1985, before most of the troops currently assigned to it were born. Those troops all work on the planet’s surface and none of them wields a phaser or a lightsaber. And most of the time on the job they wear—wait for it—camouflage combat and working uniforms.
USSPACECOM, it should be noted, is not a branch of service. It is a combatant command, one of several major military commands that focus on either a geographic region (e.g., Europe, the Middle East) or a particular function (e.g., transportation, special operations).
By contrast, the Space Force is a new sixth branch of the armed forces, after the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force. The Space Force, founded on December 20, 2019, is only the second new military branch established in the last 200 years, so there is not a lot of precedent for the organizational structure. After World War II, the War Department was split into separate departments of the Army and the Air Force—the most recent historical parallel. The Marine Corps, by contrast, is a separate service branch within the Department of the Navy. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy in wartime.
When the president announced the intention to create a separate Space Force, there were a lot questions raised:
Would there be a new Department of the Space Force, with all of the resulting administrative overhead?
Would there be new dress uniforms (perhaps inspired by Galaxy Quest or The Orville) manufactured by Ivanka Trump’s fashion company on a no-bid contract?
Would there be a new high-rise headquarters building, conveniently near a Trump Tower (for, you know, staff housing)?
Would there be, building on the success of Trump University, a YUGE, classy new service academy, built in a 2020 swing state with the Trump Organization as the general contractor?
And would the Space Force Academy play its home football games in Trump Stadium, the classiest, most elegant stadium ever?
The answers so far are no, no, no, no, and hell no. No academy, no football team, and no separate department. The new branch is a separate service within the Department of the Air Force, analogous to the status of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.
There will presumably be a new service dress uniform (equivalent to civilian coat and tie) at some point, but for now USSF personnel are wearing both the working uniform and the service dress uniform of the Air Force. (Note that I said “USSF personnel.” There is not yet any agreed-upon term for Space Force members as there is for the other services.)
One month into its existence, the Space Force appears to be working for as smooth and efficient a transition as possible. Reasonable people can disagree on whether the new organizational structure is the best one for accomplishing the mission the Space Force has been given. But the mission isn’t going away, and the highly skilled and dedicated people who perform it will, at least in the immediate future, be wearing the same uniforms that they did before the new service was established.
Forget the internet chatter about “new uniforms” and “fighting in space.” The personnel of the Space Force will boldly go where lots of people have gone before, and will do so in uniforms most of them already own.