Pair of UH cadets to join the US Space Force
Andrea Leinfelder Jan. 14, 2021 Updated: Jan. 14, 2021 6:54 p.m.
It was during the wee morning hours, holed up in Building 30 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, that University of Houston students Chris Williams and Mitchell Montalvo decided they wanted to join the U.S. Space Force.
They were interns helping to monitor a satellite deployed from the International Space Station in January of 2020. This research and development satellite required 24/7 monitoring in its early days of flights. And the interns were assigned midnight shifts.
Yet despite these hours, Williams recalled feeling the energy of NASA. And Montalvo used his downtime to get career advice from the NASA engineers and a captain in the Air Force.
Both students were cadets with the UH Air Force ROTC. And later that year, an opportunity arose for Williams and Montalvo to join the Space Force after graduating.
For the first time, the Space Force had asked Air Force ROTC programs to find students who wanted to become future Space Force officers. They would graduate and enter directly into the Space Force rather than the Air Force.
ROTC programs from across the country nominated 214 cadets; 70, including Williams and Montalvo, were selected. The decision was made based on their leadership skills, GPA, fitness test scores and Air Force Officer Qualifying Test scores.
“Any time you’re among the first to do something, and you’re competitively selected for it, it’s a true accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. Matt Manning, commander of the UH Air Force ROTC. “And it’s a testament to these two gentlemen’s hard work, dedication to the mission and dedication to service.”
The U.S. Space Force was created as the sixth military branch on Dec. 20, 2019.
Williams, 25, graduated from UH in December with a bachelor’s in chemistry. At that time, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Montalvo, 23, is set to graduate in May with a computer science degree. He’ll remain a cadet until graduation when he’s commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Williams and Montalvo will enter active duty later this year. Both said they’re excited to contribute to something new.
“I want to be on the forefront of the next frontier,” Williams said.
It’s a feeling shared among many UH Air Force ROTC students, Manning said. They’re drawn to the new technologies and possibilities of space. And they understand the importance of protecting assets, mainly satellites, in microgravity.
Satellites are essential to military and civilian life. The Space Force operates GPS satellites used by, well, everyone, and communication satellites used for military operations.
For most people, joining the Space Force does not involve going into space (NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is an exception as he transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force while on the International Space Station). Remaining on Earth is fine with Williams and Montalvo. Neither have an especially strong desire to experience microgravity.
Instead, their tasks could be related to commanding and controlling satellites, monitoring missile warning systems, tracking space debris or working with commercial launch companies such as SpaceX.
New name: Members of U.S. Space Force to be called Guardians
And as members of the Space Force, Williams and Montalvo will be called Guardians. A name they both like, even though they admitted it sounds like the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Montalvo said the name is fitting. The Space Force protects, or guards, men and women on the front lines by operating the satellites that provide them with orders, intel and, sometimes, life-saving information.
“We might be watching via satellite, but we are always going to be there to protect them,” he said.