The importance of progression to the Space Force

  • Published
  • By U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Bryony Slaughter and U.S. Space Force Lt. Col. Jon Slaughter
  • Space Delta 9 – Orbital Warfare, Space Delta 3 – Space Electromagnetic Warfare

Motocross legend Carey Hart was the first person to ever attempt a backflip on a 250 cubic centimeter motorcycle during a freestyle competition at the summer Gravity Games in Providence, Rhode Island. His execution wasn't perfect, and he didn’t completely land the trick, but he had forever changed the sport of Freestyle Motocross (FMX).

By definition, Hart’s attempt was innovation.

Carey Hart had cracked the code on the backflip, and set a new standard of expectations in the sport of FMX. Because of Hart's success, tricks previously viewed as difficult before the backflip were not worth as many points with the judges during future competitions. As a result, his competitors were immediately driven to take action and get after learning the backflip and then improving the skill.

Soon after the 2000 summer Gravity Games, FMX would see competitors executing refined backflips, variations of backflips ('No Footers,' ‘Heel Clickers, ‘One Handed’), combinations of other tricks incorporating backflips, and years later even double and triple backflips. There are even snowmobilers attempting and landing backflips now. The trick once thought of as the "holy grail" of FMX was evolving and expanding. FMX riders continue to add to and advance the now simple backflip that Hart accomplished 20 years before.

By definition, this is progression.

Progression builds off of innovation. Progression is a core tenet to all action sports like snowboarding, skiing, surfing and skateboarding. In these sports, progression is a requirement for winning. Athletes are judged by their ability to show progression, and their success hinges on how much progression their tricks demonstrate. Examples of how important progression is to action sports are evident in how the athletes describe their tricks, how commentators evaluate runs and even in team mission statements. For instance, the Canadian Snowboard Team’s mission statement is, "be at the forefront of progression with a positive and open mindset." Essentially, when it comes down to it, these sporting communities understand that if you fail to progress, you lose.

Guardians should always be striving to progress. The U.S. Space Force started strong by adopting an innovation mindset as a core tenet. U.S. Space Force Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, issued planning guidance which list one of his priorities is to create a digital service to accelerate innovation. A focus on innovation and new ways of doing business to enable agility is essential, but it is not the only ingredient necessary for success. True innovation doesn't come around often or easily, and it is typically not a quick process. We should always strive for innovation within our organizations and should also pursue progression in our current capabilities and operations.

Progression promotes enthusiasm for improving and building from established cultures, methods, capabilities, ideas and tactics. Progression is the idea that you never stop improving and building on what you already know how to do, and unlike innovation, it can occur every day with every member of the force. In sports, progression may come from optimizing form, nutrition or increasing the volume or speed of training to improve on an existing skill, such as, adding a twist or another flip to an already established trick. In the USSF, progression may mean mastering a new skill, tactic or procedure and improving on it by adding a new component to the tactic to make it more effective or streamlining a process to shorten a kill chain.

Progression is also something each organization can drive within their span of control. Units can discover new ways to execute their mission or to better utilize their current mission equipment, which may generate new tactics, techniques, standard operating procedures or training to improve their given mission set. Progression at the unit level sets new expectations for the standards to which we hold our Guardians, expanding the possible horizon for the next generation.

Leaders and supervisors also benefit from a progression mindset. When progression is personal, it is often called having a "growth mindset" or the idea that we can continue improving and growing through focused effort. New leaders in our force may focus on communication skills during one-on-one interactions, then progress to leading larger groups or leading a team in a more complex or ambiguous environment. Leadership, just like technical skills, must be practiced and improved upon. While sometimes new and innovative leadership practices or philosophies arise, personal progression of those skills is vital. Progression is both an individual and a group activity. While each member needs to progress their capability, so does a flight, squadron or delta need to advance, improve and align their best practices to the current operating environment.

One area to be aware of is the inconsistent nature of progression. Guardians may experience periods where slow and steady improvements are interspersed with the necessity for rapid adaptions to changes in technology, policy or a new threat. Instead of frustration, someone with a progression mindset understands that there are always new problems to tackle along with challenges and setbacks being a part of the process. When progression stalls, that is when innovation is especially necessary. Likewise, while innovation seeks to explore the best new options or discoveries available, progression primarily helps us optimize a currently existing technology or strategic approach. The refinement of skills, given existing technology, also enables Guardians to remain adaptive when the next innovation occurs.

Embracing a progression mindset is critical to helping our USSF stay ahead of emerging threats and react to changes in the strategic environment. There are always new horizons to conquer in space. To maintain our continuing strategic advantage in the domain, Guardians must continually progress, regardless of whether that be improvements in tactics, technical solutions, leadership skills or personnel best practices.

The defense of our nation is a race without a finish, an enduring competition for which the USSF must prepare. Progression helps Guardians and their organizations focus on being the best in their craft, regardless of rank, specialty code or task, ultimately preparing the force to tackle whatever obstacle they encounter, helping to attain an enduring competitive advantage.

In action sports, it is understood that if you don’t progress, you are out of the competition before it starts. The action sports mentality of progression will serve the Space Force well moving forward. Look to innovate and expect progression because if we don't progress, we lose.