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Face of Defense: Engineering the Next Frontier

As a military brat and a childhood fan of "Star Trek," it's no surprise that Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert turned her fascination with space and engineering into a career. She spent a decade in the Air Force learning how new technologies are developed and used before switching to the Defense Department's newest branch.  

A woman in a camouflage uniform poses for a military portrait.
Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert
Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220919-X-D0439-028

Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert
Job Title: Program Manager
Hometown: Versailles, Kentucky
Stationed: Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama
Unit: Air University Air Command and Staff College

Eggert earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering and a master's degree in human factors engineering before joining the Air Force. While stationed at the Air Force Research Laboratory, she worked with brilliant minds and learned how military research is done. Then, as a program manager, she helped design requirements for a new ground system for the Global Hawk System Program Office before heading to the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. There, she worked in the Military Satellite Communications Directorate before becoming an aide to the center's commander.  

Eggert deployed to Afghanistan in 2019 before transferring to the newly formed Space Force. She moved into geospatial intelligence this past year before being picked up at her current duty station, Air Command and Staff College's Schriever Space Scholars Program.  

So, what's it like to work at the military's newest branch while developing technologies that help modern warfighters? She answered some of our questions below. Some comments have been edited for brevity.  

A woman stands in front of a door and plaque.
Office Pose
Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert poses in front of the door to the office of a Congressional representative for her home state, Kentucky.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220919-O-D0439-063A

You chose to join Air Force ROTC in college. What led to that decision?  

My father was in the Air Force, and I chose the Air Force because I've always had this draw toward technology as a whole. Even 16 years ago when I joined ROTC, I knew I wanted to be in the service with the latest technology — or at least what we could see from an unclassified perspective. Granted, I had no idea I'd find myself procuring the world's most sophisticated rockets and satellites.  

What made you switch to the Space Force after 10 years? 

It sounds funny, but I've always felt like I was born in the wrong century. I became an engineer because of Levar Burton's character, Geordi La Forge, on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." I was in Civil Air Patrol, and I was the character development officer. I modeled a lot of my classes after the many moral dilemmas that Capt. [Jean-Luc] Picard encountered with his Enterprise crew. And while we're obviously not flying around in starships just yet, this is how it all starts, right? We have to start somewhere, and so how could you not jump at the chance to start one of these next big things? Also, I had done … the last six years in the space domain anyway, so it was just kind of a natural fit. 

A graphic shows various types of satellites and capabilities.
Space Operations Command
A collection of infographics shows the capabilities and organizational structure of Space Operations Command, current as of June 2022.
Photo By: Robert Buckingham, Space Force
VIRIN: 220426-F-CX954-866

Some people question why we need a Space Force. What's your answer to that?  

I think it's time that we have a deliberate and dedicated focus on protecting our nation's assets and interests, as well as our allies and the world, all the while innovating and moving into the next frontier. We owe it to humanity to try — and ultimately succeed — to work toward what is beyond Earth. Space underpins so much of our daily lives that people don't understand, and the Space Force brings all of that to light. 

Wars of the future … are going to look very different than what we read about in our history books. We're not building trenches or having massive bombers fly around the world to carpet a bunch of bombs across the land. It's going to be very targeted and specific and pinpointed through the use of cyber or our space effects. It's truly the future, and it is really the service that's going to be the overarching service, I think. All the other services rely on … the Space Force for all these capabilities to do their jobs, be it everything from GPS or position, navigation and timing to communication satellites.   

What's been the biggest surprise for you since joining the Space Force?  

Honestly, it's that people seem to have no idea that the Air Force has had this space mission within Air Force Space Command since, like, 1982. And space history goes back way further than that. I walk around in uniform today, and the general public is so unaware of the capabilities that already exist today — and what's needed and what's being done to protect those capabilities. It's interesting to see people's reactions, like, "Oh, that's real." I've also had people stop me and claim stolen valor. So, it's really interesting. 

One of the positive things to come out of the creation of the Space Force is just general awareness. It's the same as in 1947 when people were probably like, "Why do we need an Air Force?" Now, the public of today can't even imagine the U.S. without our amazing Air Force. So really, it's just a matter of getting to that point.  

Two people hold up a flag in front of several flagpoles.
UK Flag
Air Force Capt. Alexa Eggert, right, and Maj. Justin Cunningham hold up a University of Kentucky flag in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in April 2019.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220919-O-D0439-065A
A woman in combat uniform smiles from inside a helicopter as it flies over a desert town.
Blackhawk Mission
Air Force Capt. Alexa Eggert rides in a Blackhawk helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2019 in support of NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220919-O-D0439-064A

Is the Air Force versus Space Force job much different?  

No. The day-to-day job is pretty much the same. When I was promoted and transferred, the only thing that changed was my name tape on my [operational camouflage pattern uniform] — it’s now blue. So, the difference really becomes that underpinning culture that we're trying to build. We're trying to differentiate ourselves from the Air Force and from the other services. Even though we're under the Department of the Air Force, much like Marines to the Navy, we're trying to create our own culture. 

You worked in the Air Force Research Lab, where a lot of new technology is produced. What was that experience like?  

That’s where a lot of people smarter than myself spend their days discovering and experimenting on future technologies for our militaries — anything from new engines and propulsion technologies to software, including how we do autonomous systems to the future of our space capabilities.   

I think the unofficial term for it is the tech pull-and-push concept. It's kind of like this concept: the public didn't really know that we needed iPhones until we had them in our hands, right? That's an example of tech push, whereas tech pull would be the public wanting iPhones and then a company going and making it. It takes years for technology or systems to be discovered or designed in the laboratory, and as program managers, we may see different stages of that lifecycle. At Wright Patterson [Air Force Base, which houses the AFRL], you would see the research labs pass along an idea of a certain capability to throw into, say, a Predator or Reaper. Then the Predator-Reaper Program Office, which is also at Wright Patterson, would say, "Cool. We could totally do  that." So, you get this symbiotic relationship that's like, "We need something. Can you make it?" Or, "We have something, can you use it?" Or sometimes, technology sits on a shelf until future use is determined. You don't really get to see that in other program offices around the country or the world.  


Are there any current technologies that you watched come to fruition?   

One example is Vigilant Spirit. I helped in the early days — like 2012 or 2013 — to work on some of the interface designs for that — the human machine interfacing, which is what my master's was in. I actually got to use that as I was doing the work and going through my masters. [You can find] articles about where they're using it to test autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle systems or a new capability. I lost track of it over the years, but my understanding is that they're using it as a testing platform now for how we're going to handle UAVs in the future. 

You're a big advocate of STEM courses. What class really made you say "OK, I want to be an engineer?" 

Back in high school, we had typing classes, and then that led to me taking a very, very basic level class on programming. And that sucked me in. I was intrigued by all of that. I've always found that I like how computers work. So, I guess if there was a class before college that kind of got me there, it would be that. I did computer engineering for my undergrad, and I worked at an Apple store in college for a couple of years, so it just kind of all solidified there. 

Do you see your role in the Space Force changing as the service evolves?  

What will change is, again, growing that culture for our future Guardians. Having the honor to promote and rank means more responsibility in leading that effort to create the Space Force culture in the way that we know that other services have their own culture.  

I guess the only way that I feel like the day-to-day mechanics might change is that there has been a greater emphasis by Congress and higher leadership to look at creating more speedy acquisitions. So, if there was something that would change, it's maybe how we do business — looking at how the Air Force has done traditional acquisitions in the past and trying to mold that for the future to be more agile and modular. How do we create systems that we could piece together versus these monolithic, huge weapon systems that are kind of one-offs? 

A woman poses for a photo in front of a USO banner.
USO Pose
Air Force Capt. Alexa Eggert poses in front of a USO banner at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 4, 2019.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 190704-O-D0439-025
A woman stands in front of a painted wall that says, “9 3/4.”
Sign Pose
Air Force Capt. Alexa Eggert poses in front of a sign that says, “9 3/4,” a reference to the platform in the popular Harry Potter series, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in September 2019.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 190901-O-D0439-041

What was your deployment experience like?  

I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2019 — I actually volunteered to deploy as part of Operation Resolute Support. I thought it was important to understand what it was like to go through that experience. I was surrounded by a lot of Army folks and learned a lot from our joint and coalition partners. It was truly like a NATO operation. It was amazing. There's nothing like deploying to an environment like that, and there's no way to teach that instant camaraderie that occurs when everyone's far away from home and in danger. It's an experience I'll never forget and that I value immensely. 

I imagine there are service members who are considering switching to the Space Force. What would you say to lure them in?  

Oh, man, there's so much. If you have a passion for breaking ground and starting something new — maybe you haven't been happy with something in your service, and you'd like to see that culture change. This is the place to do it. We're supposed to be the masters of space. We're creating a warfighting service with this intent to promote security and assure our allies and partners. We have to protect the assets that are currently there in our everyday life and being a part of that is fun. You're starting something new. 

There's also this thing called the Guardian Ideal. It's a paper [leadership] sent out of what they want the Space Force to look like from a personnel perspective. It's really about the people and how we shape the workforce to ultimately be those masters of space. So, if you're intrigued about joining the Space Force or what we're going after, I recommend people go read that. 

A woman sits on a large rock on the top of a mountain with a view of rolling landscapes covered in forests.
Old Rag
Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert poses on the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, during a hike with friends in October 2020.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 201018-O-D0439-027A
A woman poses for a photo in front of an ancient building made of columns.
Parthenon Pose
Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert poses in front of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, during a personal vacation in September 2021.
Photo By: Space Force Maj. Alexa Eggert, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 220919-O-D0439-066A

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?   

I love hiking. I was able to hike Pikes Peak in Colorado last year. It's been my tallest mountain, so I hope to build on that and do a little bit more. I also love riding my Peloton — I got hooked on cycling while I was deployed. I also used to play the flute very well. It's one of the things that I want to focus on here while I'm at school, to practice more. I haven't really gotten to play a lot in the last decade, so I'm kind of bringing that back. I also love to travel and snowboard, as terrible as I am, around the world. And I love heading to Disney whenever possible. It's fun to be a Space Force Guardian in the Guardians of the Galaxy area! 

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