At UND, Maj. James Franciere, USAF, becomes Maj. James Franciere, USSF

Air Force ROTC instructor’s transfer to new branch marks a first for UND

At one time a student, Maj. James Franciere (right) returned to UND this year to serve as an instructor for the University’s Air Force ROTC detachment. This fall, his transfer into the U.S. Space Force was finalized, making him among the first with UND ties to become part of America’s newest military branch. Photo by Matt and Jamy Franciere.

Maj. James Franciere figured that by coming to UND for two years to be an instructor, he and his wife could be closer to their families; their two kids could be in the same school during a formative time, and the Francieres could enjoy being back home in North Dakota for the first time in more than 20 years.

What he also encountered was becoming a pioneer in an entirely new service branch, coincidentally in the place where he had launched his military career. In October, near the spot where he had joined the U.S. Air Force, Franciere became one of the first service members with UND ties to accept a commission into the new U.S. Space Force.

Franciere thus took part in an historic moment, as the Space Force is America’s first entirely new military service to be established since the Air Force’s inception in 1947.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Space Force,” Franciere told UND Today. “Everyone who is part of this is looking forward to seeing what we can do, and there is so much potential in starting this new branch.”

Originally from New Salem, N.D., Franciere has had an Air Force career that has taken him literally around the globe.

It all started at UND, where he enlisted after attending for a semester in 1996. He received his commission as an Air Force officer in 2008.

Today, having returned to serve as Operations Flight Commander for the University’s Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) detachment, the career space operator finds himself at a star-domed intersection of education, defense and innovation.

This transition into a new U.S. military branch – a branch in which he’ll retain his Air Force rank of Major – still generates the same excitement that it did almost 25 years ago, when he first walked into a Grand Forks recruiting office, Franciere said.

“It means there is room to grow, innovate, develop, teach, lead and, like the commercial says, make history,” he said. “Being an instructor at Detachment 610, I now have the opportunity to get cadets interested, involved and possibly commissioned into the Space Force.”

While he was the first at UND to join the Space Force, Franciere is confident he won’t be the last. Along with recruiting ROTC cadets for careers in space, Franciere also is looking around campus for other students, whom he sees as being just as ready to help staff the nation’s newest Armed Service.

Students with strong computer science, engineering and other STEM backgrounds are especially welcome to apply, he said.

As he officially took the oath as a Space Force officer in October, Franciere (right) entered a branch for which he has been preparing most of his career. His assignments across his service as an enlisted Airman and, later, as an Air Force officer centered on space operations. Photo by Cadet Gabe Benson.

Pioneer on promising frontier

As North Dakota’s congressional delegation brought a number of space dignitaries to the University in the past year, President Andy Armacost has spoken highly of UND’s capacity to contribute to U.S. space advancements through education and research.

“I know there’s an important role our University can play in the ever-increasing domain of space,” Armacost wrote in a recent letter to campus. “This includes commercial and military uses of technology.

“Consider all the work we can do at UND with our air-based autonomous systems to test technologies and procedures for future systems operating autonomously in space. There’s a promising frontier right in front of us.”

Franciere arrived at UND in June, coincidentally at the same time as UND’s 13th president. The major brought a career full of experience in space operations. For the next two years, his role as an instructor on campus will position him as a representative of that new frontier.

At the Grand Forks recruiter’s office years ago, Franciere saw an Air Force enlisted position described as a “space operator,” and the observation launched a multifaceted career. Since his first assignment in 1996 in Alaska, where he watched for missile threats and tracked objects in orbit, Franciere has seen space shift from being a relatively “benign domain,” uncontested, to one in need of ever-advancing security and awareness.

As his career progressed, Franciere’s assignments grew in complexity, and he took on more responsibility. After his commissioning in 2008, Franciere helped command the first satellite dedicated to space surveillance. His expertise then took him to the National Reconnaissance Office and later to the National Space Defense Center.

At these later stages, Franciere worked in teams developing solutions to growing arsenals of potential space threats.

The Space Force officer remarked that globally intertwined space-based systems such as GPS, satellite communication and intelligence-gathering platforms, and satellite weather monitoring are assets that cannot be taken for granted.

“If those capabilities were negated, that would leave some serious gaps in our national security, civil and commercial sectors as well as national and international financial industries,” he said. An increasing number of systems that we rely on daily require a stable environment in space.

Franciere’s family helped swap the patches on his uniform during the ceremony recognizing his Space Force transfer. The Space Force changed uniforms to feature “space blue” embroidery on patches, name tapes and service tapes, a departure from the “spice brown” embroidery used by the Air Force. Photo by Cadet Gabe Benson.

More than ‘an ROTC discussion’

In moving from the Air Force to the Space Force, Franciere will transition from being a “jack of all trades” space operator to specializing in one of the major mission areas for the new branch: orbital warfare, battle management, electronic warfare and space access and sustainment. Franciere was able to request his preferred discipline to be in battle management, as it makes the most of his Air Force space operator experience.

But his time at UND for the next two years will be focused on readying Air Force ROTC cadets for their eventual commission into either the Air Force or Space Force.

As Operations Flight Commander for Detachment 610, Franciere works closely with senior class cadets, who in turn lead cadets in leadership laboratories and physical training. The major also teaches aerospace studies, including Air Force and Space Force topics such as organization, command-and-control, military planning and joint warfare.

He’s excited to take on the challenge of inspiring and motivating the next generation of Space Force and Air Force hopefuls, including creating connections across campus and beyond the armory.

“UND has a great reputation with a lot of space professionals,” Franciere said. “Part of why I wanted to come back here was to educate myself on its space programs. … Although I’m an instructor and a recruiter at the ROTC, it doesn’t have to just be an ROTC discussion.”

The creation of the Space Force, in addition to allowing for a more focused mission, is setting the stage for increased public-private partnerships – a streamlined approach to solving space-specific problems. Franciere hopes to connect with a variety of departments during his time at UND, addressing those needs and showing students how they can contribute to the Space Force missions of deterring aggression, defending the nation and integrating technological capabilities into the space domain.

“There are many military and nonmilitary paths and opportunities for those interested in space-related careers,” Franciere said. “The civilian sector in the Department of Defense is an incredibly substantial part of our readiness, continuity and operations. I think it really is a holistic team effort from all parties, academia included, to develop capabilities and operations that effectively deter and, when needed, defeat aggression in the space domain.”