Boosting the Space Force

Retired Col. Bill Woolf
Courtesy of the Space Force Association

For some Americans, the U.S. Space Force is little more than a punchline on Twitter or a Netflix satire with middling reviews.

Retired Col. Bill Woolf is hoping the Space Force Association (SFA) can help change that.

“If the only thing that folks have to reference are late-night comedians or a Netflix series, then that’s a problem,” Woolf, president and founder of the association, said in a recent phone interview with The Hill.

“And so our first year at SFA was focused on just getting the interviews out with senior leaders so that we can have that dialogue, and it is public, and we can share that information, because there’s multiple audiences that just need to understand what the Space Force is all about,” he said. “Probably one of the most important is, the American people need to understand the importance of the service.”

The association was founded in October 2019 — a couple months before the Space Force was officially established as the sixth branch of the U.S. military — with a goal of supporting the nascent service, providing a voice to its members and connecting the space operations community with the private sector.

Woolf, 49, got his start in the military as an ROTC cadet at Northern Arizona University, where he was working on a degree in math education.

His dad had been in the Air Force for a bit during the Vietnam era, but joining the military was not something he had planned on doing until a friend told him he could get his master’s degree, something he thought would be beneficial for a career in education, paid for by joining the ROTC.

Woolf’s first assignment was as a missile launch officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where he said the relationships and friendships he fostered with “some of the most phenomenal people in the military” convinced him to stay in the service beyond the commitment he made as part of the ROTC.

“As the youngest of four, if you were to ask my mom how I got through life, she’ll say, ‘Yeah, stumbling is probably a good way to explain it,’ ” Woolf said. “I was always interested in the military, but I didn’t pay much attention to it until my first duty assignment where I just fell in love with it and of course the ROTC program, where it really did instill in me the desire to serve.”

Woolf’s first foray into space operations was when he was cross-trained into the 4th Space Surveillance Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. While there, in 2001, he was enticed to sign up for the weapons instructor course at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he could learn “everything there is to know about space operations.”

It was at that course he got his call sign: Hippie. He had been driving a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle handed down to him by his brother when some members of his squadron at Holloman asked him if they could paint it.

“So one weekend, I went on leave, and I came back, and my car had been painted with different colors on every single quarter panel with complimentary daisies painted all over the car,” he recounted.

From there, he had a choice of whether to get it repainted or drive it to the weapons instructor course with the daisies, he said. He went with the daisies, which, combined with what he described as his “easy-going personality,” landed him the Hippie moniker.

After the weapons instructor course, much of his military career focused on integrating space capabilities into operations around the United States and the world. For example, he went to Afghanistan in 2002 to support “blue force” GPS-enabled tracking for special operations forces, he said.

Early in his career, he said he found efforts to integrate space in missions were often dismissed. But it became “more popular” over time, he said.

“Initially, it was difficult because anytime you talk about a new mission set in the joint fight, people would say, ‘Well, we’ve already done it,’” he said. “But typically if you start peeling back the layers of the types of integration work that has been accomplished, you’ll find that there really hasn’t been much work done.”

Woolf retired from the Air Force in 2018 after a 24-year career. These days, he is the CEO of the Woolf Consulting Group and splits his time between the SFA’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., the association’s Space Center of Excellence in Washington, D.C., and Wolf Creek, Mont.

Woolf decided to launch the SFA after conversations with colleagues about the need to connect the space operations community with the private sector, where retired space operators often go to work.

“I said, ‘Yeah that sounds great, somebody should do that,’ and they said, ‘No, you should do it,’ ” he recalled.

While at a conference at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, Woolf showed a friend a draft of the association’s website, and the friend encouraged him to launch it that day. Within a day after the site was up, Woolf said, the SFA had 100 members.

Among the association’s current projects are working with the Air Force Academy to stand up a space battle lab for cadets and establishing a space education training center to work with universities to train those in the private sector to work with the Space Force.

But the association’s biggest focus right now is on quantifying what it means to have “space superiority,” Woolf said. As part of that, the organization is working with consulting firm LMI to set up the Space Center of Excellence, with the center’s first study planning to focus on quantifying the space superiority mission.

“The other services do a really good job of quantifying to Congress what they need to accomplish their domain superiority mission,” Woolf said. “I think the Space Force has an opportunity to help define what that looks like. We say space superiority quite a bit, but until you’re able to quantify it and say this is what it actually means, these are the amount of resources necessary, this is the amount of expertise we need from our guardians — that’s the conversation I think that needs to happen.”

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