In October of 2018, the Trump administration announced the creation of the U.S. Space Force (USSF), previously known as the U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). The decision was formalized on December 20th, 2019, with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 (NDAA 2020). Since then, the USSF has taken steps to establish all the particulars of an independent service branch.
This included the creation of a logo and a motto (reminiscent of Starfleet and “Semper Supra!”), a headquarters, a recruiting video, and a training program. They even conducted their first joint mission with the USAF, sending the X-37B to space to test a number of technology demonstrators. And in honor of its one-year anniversary, the VP Pence announced that it has chosen what it will call USSF service members – Guardians!
The announcement was made on Friday, December 18th, 2020, during a White House press conference hosted by VP Mike Pence and senior Defense officials. These included Chief of Space Operations (CSO) for the USSF – General John W. Raymond – acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, and Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett.
As Pence explained towards the end of the conference (34m20s into the video), the decision was very recently made after discussions with the President:
“We just returned from the Oval Office. And so it is my honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to announce that henceforth the men and women of the United States space force will be known as Guardians. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians will be defending our nation for generations to come!”
The name hearkens back to the Air Force Space Command’s motto from when it was inaugurated in 1983. According to a recent post from the USSF website, that motto was “Guardians of the High Frontier,” which itself was a reference to Gerard K. O’Neill’s seminal work about space colonization. It’s also in keeping with the NDAA 2020, which establishes that the USSF still operates within the Department of the Air Force.
Naturally, there are some pop-culture allusions that are unavoidable here. Consider the Space Force logo, which resembles that of the popular franchise Star Trek (the Starfleet symbol). However, there too, the precedent is said to have been historical, as the USAF has been using the delta symbol since 1961 – something the USAF Space Command began doing since its inception in 1983.
Still, fans of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are no doubt feeling just a little tickled and smug right now. The USSF statement, which was also issued on Dec. 18th, indicated that the name selection process included a great deal of input from the public:
“Today, after a yearlong process that produced hundreds of submissions and research involving space professionals and members of the general public, we can finally share with you the name by which we will be known: Guardians.
“The opportunity to name a force is a momentous responsibility. Guardians is a name with a long history in space operations, tracing back to the original command motto of Air Force Space Command in 1983, “Guardians of the High Frontier.”
“The name Guardians connects our proud heritage and culture to the important mission we execute 24/7, protecting the people and interest of the U.S. and its allies.
“Guardians. Semper Supra!”
A lot of work still needs to be done in order to identify the distinct role and responsibilities of the Space Force. Much of this has to do with public perception and the fact that the USSF is handling tasks normally overseen by the USAF. This may change in the future as the prospect of warfare becomes a more likely scenario, and technologies are developed that will allow for actual combat operations in space.
In the meantime, personnel within the Space Force can expect a little ribbing for being hard to distinguish from science fiction. But if someday, aliens show up Independence Day style, the Guardians are sure to live up to that name!