SMDC makes Branch Week out of this world for cadets
Capt. Byron Zajdel, right, 1st Space Brigade operations officer, speaks with U.S. Military Academy cadets about their possible future as an Army space Functional Area 40 space operations officer, Sept. 8, during Branch Week at West Point, N.Y. Branch Week offers cadets the chance to explore career options by learning about the Army’s branches and functional areas. For those representing the FA40 team, Branch Week gave them time to explain the importance of Army space as well as identify cadets interested in becoming space operations officers. (U.S. Army photo by Jason Cutshaw) (Photo Credit: Jason Cutshaw) VIEW ORIGINAL

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Team members from across the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command recruited future leaders for Army space’s Functional Area 40 during the U.S. Military Academy’s Branch Week, Sept. 7-9.

Branch Week offers cadets the chance to explore career options by learning about the Army’s branches and functional areas. For those representing the FA40 team, Branch Week gave them time to explain the importance of Army space as well as identify cadets interested in becoming space operations officers.

“Space is in everything we do,” said Col. Bryan P. Shrank, USASMDC’s deputy chief of staff, G-3. “Everything we do on the battlefield and everything we do in our daily life, space is a part of it. Space is important for the Army as we use it to make precision strikes, to move around on the battlefield, satellite communications to talk with each other and other methods so we can win. We are telling these cadets this is an exciting field that is growing and is absolutely critical to every part of what we do in the Army.”

Shrank said many cadets and Army officers are not aware of the leadership and operational opportunities available to them in the space operations career field.

“The cadets have shown great interest and we have really positive engagements out here,” he said. “We have had a very positive reception and the interest in Army space continues to grow. It has been a great opportunity to come out and talk to these cadets to tell them what we do and see the future of the Army.”

The command’s Army Space Personnel Development Office manages the FA40 Assured Functional Area Transfer program, which gives Army officers with science, technical engineering and mathematics degrees the opportunity to become FA40s early in their career through a competitive selection process while in their senior year of college. Cadets from ROTC programs as well as from West Point can apply. Twenty cadets were selected for the 2022 program.

Many cadets are often confused about the difference between the Space Force and the FA40 career field. He told them although Army space is in the space domain, the focus is on dominating on the ground to support land forces.

Ensuring continued space support means having the right people in the right jobs at the right time – a goal of the AFAT program.

“It is very important for cadets to understand how the branches in the Army are, how they operate and what they contribute to the Army,” said Lt. Col. Mike Smith, Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence commandant. “That understanding and getting that operational experience as they move on in their careers leads them into the potential transfer of becoming space operations officers. That operational experience in small-unit tactics and just understanding how to be a good officer is the foundation of what makes a good Army space officer.

“The Army is the biggest user of space capabilities,” he added. “Precision-guided munitions, GPS and satellite communications are key to supporting the land component of combat. Space-capabilities and space effects can help the commander on the ground with their scheme of maneuver as they are conducting operations.”

To identify applicants, USASMDC participates in events like Branch Week, advanced camps and virtual branch orientations. Team members engaged with approximately 100 cadets during the three-day West Point event.

Smith said as the FA40 career field grows, the need for space operations officers increases as the Army continues to move toward a multi-domain operations capable force.

“The best part of being an FA40 is that we are seen as the Department of Defense warfighters for space,” he said. “We are the ones who integrate, we are the ones who work for the warfighter. Supporting the warfighter is our primary goal. We have the ability to do that because we understand the Army and combat operations.

“Space is critical to how the Army wins our nations wars in the future,” Smith added. “Branch Week is an amazing experience and opportunity to introduce the concepts and ideas that there is a potential to do something else and still contribute to the fight just as much as any of the Army branches.”

When asked by cadets what they need to become Army space operations officers, the USASMDC cadre explained that operational experience sets FA40s apart. They said experience gained at the platoon leader and company level is invaluable as they take operational knowledge and integrate it into Army space operations

“My job is to try to help mentor, develop and shape the career and path of our space operations officers,” said Maj. Nick Parsai, Army space operations career manager. “Branch Week is really about opportunities. AFAT is an opportunity for the cadets to say they want to be space operations officers early on and that opportunity translates because it is one more chance to apply for that transfer that the rest of the force doesn’t have because they didn’t think about it early enough.

“Branch Week has been phenomenal,” he added. “The amount of excitement you see in cadets’ faces and the level of knowledge they already have is just mind-boggling. Cadets here at West Point are by far some of the most professional and intelligent people I have known.”

Parsai said those who opt-in for the AFAT program also have the choice to stay with their original branch if they love it. That is one of the best things about the program because it gives the cadets the option.

“Cadets across the nation compete, not just those here at the U.S. Military Academy, but also ROTC cadets as well,” he added. “You are looking at approximately 4,800 cadets who will compete. We want those who have a passion for space because if you have a passion for something you will do it with excitement. If you want to be in the future of warfare, then you need to be in Army space.”

The 2023 FA40 AFAT program is open for applications now and selections will be made in the spring. Interested officers can also apply through the Talent Based Career Alignment during the Captains’ Career Course and the Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program.