Fort Carson, Colo. — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Grela was raised on Star Wars in the 1970s and 80s igniting a lifelong fascination with the cosmos. As fate would have it, he would be one of a select few in the initial cadre to hold the highest enlisted rank in the U.S. Space Force, the new branch of the military completely devoted to the space domain.
Grela and five other Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s 53rd Signal Battalion will separate from the Army and transfer into the Space Force Oct. 1. Grela was among 3,700 Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who volunteered to join the Space Force in March 2021, and he was subsequently selected as one of the first 50 to become a “Guardian,” the service’s term for their personnel.
“It’s very exciting because it’s the ability to be a part of history,” Grela said of the crossover. “I was always in awe of the initial airmen in the Air Force over 70 years ago, so to be a part of that and in a service oriented toward space is a whole new exciting chapter in my life.”
It’s a life that has seen the majority of it spent in the military. Grela joined a year before graduating from high school when he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1991 as a combat engineer and traditionally served (one weekend a month, two weeks a year) for three years. After a two-year break in service working as a machinist, he then joined the active-duty Army as an air defense artillery Soldier stationed in Darmstadt, Germany, for his first duty station.
While in Germany, he happened to run into the noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the Joint Tactical Ground Station unit in Stuttgart who steered him down the path of Army Space and a new focus for his career.
Since 1998, Grela has served in SMDC. From 1998 to 2000, he was a Joint Tactical Ground Station crew chief in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
From 2004 to 2011 he was in leadership roles under SMDC attached to the 112th Special Operations Signal Battalion and the Joint Communications Support Element - a joint forces expeditionary communications provider that has the rare ability to operate at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Here he supported the special operations community, where he was overseas more than he was home.
“The JCSE is probably the best single unit I have ever been a part of,” Grela said. “It was great working with communicators from all the four services and getting to work the special operations mission set.”
Grela traveled to many Middle Eastern countries during his time in the JCSE and at times felt he truly embedded himself in the culture getting to know the locals - a unique experience not too many military personnel get to do in a lifetime.
After stops at the Defense Information Systems Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, and the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, Grela traveled back overseas to be sergeant major of the 2nd NATO Signal Battalion in Naples, Italy.
Other sergeant major roles include the 1st Theater Sustainment Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and U.S. Army Central Command at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. And, for now, Grela will simply stay put in Colorado Springs.
“From 100 kilometers above earth to infinity is the domain the Space Force will be concerned with,” Grela said. “Four service branches are coming together to make something new, which will then support that domain and all of those services at the same time.”
When asked if he will miss the Army, Grela said he doesn’t look at it as necessarily leaving the oldest branch of the military.
“I’ll just be supporting it from a different angle,” he said. “I’m still going to be a Soldier at heart supporting the Army and adding the Army's flavor of culture into the Space Force.”
Starting in fiscal year 2022, the Department of the Army will transfer some satellite operations functions to the U.S. Space Force. This transfer includes the five Wideband Satellite Communications Operations Centers, four Regional Satellite Communications Support Centers, the Consolidated Satellite Communication Systems Experts, and 502 associated manpower authorizations. SMDC will continue to support the SATOPS transition and Soldiers with administration and training through the fiscal year.