Chief Master Sgt. Roger A. Towberman, the Space Force's first senior enlisted leader as well as its first ever enlisted service member, will be retiring this year.
That means the Space Force, the newest and smallest military branch, is going through a full vetting process for a new top enlisted leader and has already begun interviewing candidates to replace him.
The Space Force wanted to cast a wide net to find a successor, and Towberman revealed to Military.com in an interview the names of the five candidates for the role and the process the service has used to help Chief of Space Operations Gen. Bradley Chance Saltzman make an informed choice.
"I'm just really proud of all of them, and I'm thankful for the team that we've built and the connection that we have, across our force," Towberman told Military.com. "These five in particular, I've known for a long time. Some of them I've known way back in my Air Force days. ... Whoever is selected, I have no worries. I think the Space Force is in fantastic hands."
Towberman said the Space Force had only two requirements for those who wanted to be considered to become the service's top enlisted leader: A candidate must have been a chief master sergeant for at least three years and have at least 22 years of service.
The Space Force has been a separate service branch for only three years. It is still building up its noncommissioned officer corps and has filled many of its senior roles with transfers from other services. The five candidates all have prior service in the Air Force and transferred into the Space Force.
The five finalists to become the next chief master sergeant of the Space Force include:
- Chief Master Sgt. John Bentivegna serves as the senior enlisted adviser to the service's chief operations officer and is the enlisted space operations career field manager at Space Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He completed Air Force basic training in October 1994 and transferred into the Space Force in September 2020. Previously, he was the senior enlisted leader for Space Operations Command at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.
- Chief Master Sgt. April Brittain is the commandant of the Space Force's Forrest L. Vosler Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, assigned to Space Training and Readiness Command at Peterson Space Force Base. She entered the Air Force in 1994 as a security forces apprentice. In December 2020, Brittain transferred to the Space Force. Previously, she was the senior enlisted leader at Space Delta 2 located at Peterson.
- Chief Master Sgt. Willie Frazier serves as the senior enlisted leader of Space Systems Command at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. He entered the Air Force in 1994. Frazier transferred into the Space Force in December 2020. Previously, he was the senior enlisted leader at Space Delta 4 at Buckley Space Force Base in Colorado.
- Chief Master Sgt. James Seballes is the senior enlisted leader of Space Training and Readiness Command, which is temporarily located at Peterson Space Force Base. He completed Air Force basic training in July 1994. Seballes transferred into the Space Force in December 2020. Previously, he was chief enlisted manager of the United States Space Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Directorate at Peterson.
- Chief Master Sgt. Jacob "Jake" Simmons serves as the senior enlisted leader for Space Operations Command at Peterson Space Force Base. Simmons entered the Air Force in May 1992. In September 2020, he transferred to the Space Force. Previously, he was the command senior enlisted leader for Joint Task Force-Space Defense at Schriever Space Force Base, Colorado.
The five enlisted leaders were flown to Washington, D.C., where between April 11 and April 14 they went through a series of exercises and evaluations to give Saltzman data he will need to make a final decision.
The four-day process served as a way for the Space Force to vet the candidates' skills and give them an opportunity to showcase their leadership abilities.
During the first day, the five candidates were briefed by Towberman and Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson and interviewed by an occupational psychologist who gathered information on them to present to Saltzman.
Towberman said he was not part of the process following that first day's briefing, explaining he didn't want to "slant the outcome."
On the second day, the candidates worked on their verbal communication skills, which included being handed massive stacks of information and having to digest it before facing a public grilling.
"How do they navigate the difficulty when you get handed a four-inch thick binder and [are told], 'Hey, you've got a press interview in an hour or you've got to go to Congress tomorrow,'" Towberman said. "This comes with the territory, and so we really exposed them to scenarios that we had built, but it was pretty realistic."
The third day included asking the candidates to host a mock town hall with enlisted airmen at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Space Force officials had prepared questions that they provided to the rank and file in the audience, and the service members peppered the senior leaders with queries. The candidates were all evaluated by the crowd, and those scores were provided to board officials as well.
Finally, on the fourth day, the candidates conducted interviews in front of a board that consisted of four general officers, one senior executive service civilian and one senior enlisted adviser.
They gave Saltzman all the information they collected, and the final choice now rests with him.
"Now we've got all of this data, we have a huge stack of information to hand to the boss, so that he could have the most information available to help make what will probably end up being one of the most important decisions, in my opinion, he'll have to make," Towberman said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct mention of ranks in two places.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.