The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is getting its first permanent professor who is a member of the Space Force, as interest in the newest military service branch continues to grow among cadets.
Air Force Col. Luke Sauter, a permanent professor and head of the school's astronautics department, will transfer into the Space Force on Friday during a formal ceremony at the academy. The school sees it as a chance for the new service to get much needed visibility in front of cadets.
"It's important that our cadets see Guardians across our academy and that they have the opportunity to speak with Colonel Sauter and other leaders about the Space Force as they consider which branch of military service they would like to join," Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, dean of the faculty, said in a press release.
Ahead of his transfer ceremony, Sauter said in a press release that calling it an honor to serve the newest military branch would "be an understatement."
Sauter graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2002 and worked at the National Reconnaissance Office, focusing on imagery intelligence directorate, and as a legislative liaison prior to his current assignment at the school, where he encouraged cadets' interest in space careers.
"It has been an incredible point of pride for our entire Astronautics Department to play a role in developing space-focused officers for decades here at the academy," said Sauter. "It is certainly a historic day to have our first Space Force permanent professor assigned; I hope there will be many more to follow."
The Space Force does not have its own service academy. Since it is a part of the Department of the Air Force, it graduates and commissions officers among the airmen at the academy -- similar to the Marine Corps' relationship with the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
In 2020, 9% of the student body -- 88 cadets -- commissioned into the Space Force upon graduation.
The following year, the Air Force Academy opened the first Space Force detachment at the school, allowing cadets to connect with active-duty Guardians to learn more about the service.
In 2021, the number of cadets who became officers in the Space Force upon graduation grew to 11%, or 115 cadets.
When the Air Force Academy graduates the 2022 class next month, it's projected that around 10% of the cadets, or 101, will be commissioned as Space Force officers.
Letendre said having a full-time Space Force professor will only stoke more interest in the service for future Guardians.
"As our first Space Force permanent professor, Colonel Sauter will bridge the gap between the needs of the Space Force and our curriculum as we build future leaders of character," Letendre said in a statement.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.