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News | July 2, 2024

Face of Defense: Officer's Career Takes Off in Space Force

By Bridget Bonnette

Space Force Lt. Col. Russell Smith began his military career in the Air Force, but his interests gravitated toward space as one of the most crucial warfighting domains. He quickly transferred to the Space Force and sees his role with the newest service branch as being a part of history as space operations become essential to U.S. security and global stability.

Tell us about your commissioning story. Why did you choose to serve? 


The military always felt like my destination. Several influential people in my life served in the military. Both of my grandfathers were in World War II.  Several of the men in my life attended the Citadel, and I followed in my brother's footsteps of going to the Air Force Academy. Both of us are still serving over 15 years later, with my brother currently working as the deputy commander of the 18th Maintenance Group in Okinawa, Japan. 

I attended the academy because I wanted to lead people. I seized the opportunity to play football and obtain a quality education while pursuing my goal of commissioning as an officer in the Air Force. I'll never forget standing at graduation and hearing the vice president say, "Class of 2009, you are dismissed." I tossed my service cap as high as I could. As I looked at all of them in the sky, the Thunderbirds screamed overhead, precisely timed, and I knew I had made the right choice.

Why did you transfer into the U.S. Space Force? What advice would you give to others who may be considering transferring? 

When I attended undergraduate space training, I was in the first cohort to be fully dedicated to either the space or missiles career field. I was selected for the space operations specialty, and I have loved it. I joked for years that we should have a stand alone "Space Corps," and lo and behold, 10 years later we stood up the Space Force as its own branch of the military. It was natural for me to transfer, and I was excited to do so.  

I would advise people that now is the time to join! Be a part of history and leave your fingerprints on the culture and heritage of the newest branch of the military. It will open doors and opportunities for you that you didn't even know existed.

Explain the importance of space in the military sphere.


The fact that we have a Space Force speaks volumes to the importance of this new warfighting domain. During the U.S. Space Command change of command ceremony on Jan. 10, 2024, the [vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] stated that, "Recent conflicts have starkly illustrated the indispensable role of space in our nation's defense capabilities, and, in my view, space has emerged as our most essential warfighting domain - integral to our national security, our coalition interoperability, and our global stability." 

Think about it. Every mission starts with a weather report. Where does that come from? Every time I swipe my credit card it's GPS time- stamped. If we use it without thinking in the private sector of our lives, how much more do we depend on position, navigation and timing to move troops and guide precision weapons in the military sector? We provide assured, survivable satellite communications for the president, and we track and maintain tens of thousands of objects in space. Operations in, from and to space are heavily interwoven with the intelligence community and every branch of the armed forces. 

We provide intelligence and surveillance, space domain awareness, electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile warning, cyber, orbital warfare, and command and control of constellations.

When you don't see the satellites and space operations every day, it's easy to take space for granted. The general public doesn't realize how much we all rely on space, but our adversaries know, and it's become a highly contested and congested environment. We're committed alongside our partners and allies to deterring aggression, securing free access to space, and enabling future space operations to ensure that there's never a day without space!

How do you support space leadership in your current role?


I'm in a unique position where I serve as the executive officer for two general officers. One is focused on the service side, and the other is aligned on the joint side. They are each deputies for our 3-star commander who merges and deconflicts joint and service priorities while reporting to Spacecom and USSF. It takes a huge amount of planning and quick-thinking to keep things moving smoothly in this dynamic office. I've executed thousands of meetings and events, reviewed and staffed hundreds of performance reports and decorations, planned, booked, and aided dozens of [temporary duty stations], crafted speeches and briefings, actioned ceremonies, and learned a whole lot along the way! I'm very thankful that I've been given the opportunity to work with this talented, professional and high-speed team.

What has been the hardest space-related skill for you to master?


One of the most useful and difficult things I've learned how to do is digest complex ideas and explain them to people in an easy-to-understand fashion. There is, however, always room for growth. I'm learning new things every day. We could talk about the technical intricacies of orbital mechanics here and deep dive into complicated missions like launching and landing spaceplanes, which my team has successfully done numerous times, but I wouldn't let the complexities of our theater deter someone from joining our team. We work hard, winning matters to us and I'm very proud of what we do every day.

Tell us about your family/support system. 


I've been happily married for 12 years, and my wife (Michelle) and two kids (Mirabelle and Roman) are very supportive. Michelle enjoys planning adventurous outings for the family which helps us enjoy every place we're stationed. We've been actively plugged into churches and local communities everywhere we've lived, and that's provided us a lot of stability and purpose outside of the military.


What do you do when you're not wearing the uniform?  

I love playing guitar, grilling, hunting, fishing, snowboarding, and being outdoors. I read as much as I can (I enjoyed "2034" by Ackerman and Admiral Stavridis), and I do my best to stay in shape (Spartan obstacle course races in recent years). I started lobstering and skateboarding with my kids since we moved to California.  My family has learned to embrace whatever it is that people enjoy doing in the local area, and because of that we've picked up many new hobbies along the way. We're always keeping busy with sports and homeschooling our two kids, and my wife and I are blessed to have been on numerous worship teams at different churches across the country. My dad always says, "you sure don't let the grass grow under your feet!"