Saturday, December 4, 2021

Opting for the Great Beyond

Submitted Photos | The Hurtley family at Airman Josiah Hurtley’s March 2018, graduation from Air Force basic training in San Antonio. From left to right are Shawn Hurtley, Sgt. Jacob Hurtley, senior airman Josiah Hurtley, Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Hurtley and Michelle Hurtley.


Jacob Hurtley may be starting a new family tradition. 

When the 2014 Marco Island Academy graduate joined the U.S. Air Force in 2015, he followed in the footsteps of his parents, Shawn and Michelle, who are veterans of that military branch. Two of his four siblings, older brother Joshua and younger brother Josiah, are also serving in the Air Force, as is his wife, Sgt. Donna Farris. In fact, the family’s association with the Air Force goes back several generations. 

But Sgt. Jacob Hurtley and his wife diverged from that path, on February 5, when they officially transferred from the Air Force to the country’s newest armed forces branch, the United States Space Force. 

Founded in December 2019, the USSF’s primary mission is to maintain, protect and expand America’s advanced military satellites, which form the backbone of U.S. global military operations. The USSF is a sister-branch of the Air Force, both falling under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of the Air Force, one of the country’s three, civilian-led military departments. 

“Everyone in Space Force is specialized and only focused on space,” explained Hurtley. “It’s such a huge domain and over the next 20 years, it’s going to be a growing domain that we really need to focus on. Our satellites are the main part of that. They enable us to not only conduct operations on the ground, but to also be able to tell where we’re going with GPS. So, they’re a large part of everyone’s everyday lives.”

Sgt. Jacob Hurtley and his wife, Sgt. Donna Farris, of the U.S. Space Force after the 73rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron’s U.S. Space Force transfer ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The USSF marks the first addition to America’s military since the Air Force’s creation in 1947. The opportunity to be part of its early days proved to be irresistible for Hurtley. 

“It was a pretty big leap,” he said of the transfer. “I’m third-generation Air Force and now, first-generation Space Force. It’s exciting to be part of this new service and the decisions that are made. They’ve (Space Force leadership) been doing a lot of crowdsourcing where they’re actually asking us, ‘Hey, what do you want to do for this or what kind of change do you want to see in this policy?’ It’s nice because it’s some of the same work I was doing, but we’re not held back by any, ‘This is the way it’s always been done.’ We’re a brand-new service and we can do things in a brand-new way that may have never been considered before.”

The sergeants Hurtley are now members of the 73rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, outside Dayton, Ohio. The 73rd conducts global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations to support the research, development, and acquisition of future space capabilities. 

Jacob works as a signals intelligence analyst, while his wife of three years is a “Supra Coder,” in USSF parlance. Supra Coders develop the computer code and software that supports the Space Force mission, which is heavily reliant upon having a potent digital backbone. 

In the same way that the Air Force has airmen, the Space Force has a name for its personnel that reflects their extraterrestrial focus: guardian. Space Force command chose the name after a lengthy survey of people involved in space-related professions and the general public. “Guardians of the High Frontier” was the original command motto of Space Force’s precursor, Air Force Space Command. 

“It really kind of encapsulates the work that we do,” said Hurtley. “We’re not out there in the desert fighting every day. But we’re really trying to keep a domain that’s been peaceful…peaceful. We’re trying to protect the assets that we have up there and all the work we’re doing there.”

Hurtley and his wife met after basic training, when they were attending Air Force technical school in Texas. They didn’t start dating until later, when they were stationed in Alaska, which is where they got married. 

The couple recently came to Marco for a one-week long visit with his family. It was the first time he’d returned to the island since 2017, because of work responsibilities and of course, in 2020, the advent of COVID. 

“It’s been nice to visit again and see the beaches,” said Hurtley. “I miss those after being in Alaska and Ohio,” he added with a chuckle.

Where his professional future is concerned, he’s noncommittal, but definitely leaning in a certain direction. 

“I like to leave my options open, but more and more it’s seemingly like it’s going to be for the whole 20 (years),” said Hurtley. “It’s a very unique opportunity to be part of something for the first 20 years of its existence. With space and the Space Force, over the next 20 years you’re going to see a lot of changes. And I’m excited to be part of that. I’m excited to be on the inside when the decisions are being made. It will be nice to tell my kids and grandkids someday that I was part of it when it started.”



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