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The Space Cowboys: Guardians earn their spurs in cavalry tradition

“It's kind of cool to be called Space Cowboys."
Patty Nieberg Avatar
A U.S. Space Force spur ride candidate hydrates during a spur ride held by 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, Apr 29, 2024. Army photo by Spc. David Poleski.

What do you call a Space Force officer wearing cavalry spurs and a Stetson hat?

“It’s kind of cool to be called Space Cowboys,” Space Force 1st Lt. Jackson Jennings told Task & Purpose. “It just feels right.”

Jennings was one of three Space Force officers who completed an infamous Army Cavalry “spur ride” at the end of April to earn their spurs, an official Cavalry Stetson hat and the unofficial title of Space Cowboys, err, we mean Cavalry Scout-Guardians.

Jennings, 1st Lt. Jordan Savage and Capt. Bradley Evans joined close to 230 Army soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team in Fort Bliss, Texas to “earn their spurs.” The “Order of the Spur” is a Cavalry tradition where soldiers serving with Cavalry units complete a “Spur Ride.”

“We were the email guys and, unsurprisingly, everyone expected us to fail,” Jennings said in a Space Force release. “They’d joke and say, listen here Space Cowboy, you aren’t earning it that easily.”

Savage agreed.

“When we first got there, we were definitely the underdogs. Not in a bad way, but just kind of from what we focus on in our own domain – more cyber, more space stuff – not really on the ground fighting,” Savage said.

The Spur Ride, also referred to as “hell night,” was hosted by the Army’s 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment and took place in the Chihuahuan desert and lasted over 30 hours. Savage said the blisters he got from 37 miles of ruck marching with a 60-pound ruck were no joke. For Jennings, the toughest part was the lack of sleep. 

“It was about 30 hours and they gave us one hour of sleep,” he said. “Just going nonstop basically for that full 30 hours was pretty intense to me. I wasn’t used to that.”

The Spur Ride events included buddy bear crawls, ruck marches, obstacle courses, a low crawl event with a BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile, land navigation, reconnaissance, and other infantry tactics like call for fire and first aid.

Throughout the course, Cav soldiers told them they were doing “a lot better than we expected for Space Force guys,” Jennings said. “I kind of took that as, we’re kind of proving ourselves – the Space Force is capable war fighters.”

While they don’t do mandatory PT three times a week like most of the soldiers in the course, the two Space Force officers said they prioritize staying physically fit.

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Though the rough and tumble life of cavalry scouts and the high-tech world of Space Force aren’t obvious parallels, but their fundamental battlefield roles have common points. The Space Force maintains a wide range of satellites that provide imagery and other intelligence for maneuvering forces while cav scouts bill themselves as the “eyes and ears” of the Army, handling reconnaissance for their unit. 

In the midst of their desert challenge, Savage said his teammates had a number of questions, including the one they get most often: What is it that you do exactly?

“The young soldiers had so many questions for us about our day to day lives, our jobs, and the Space Force. They were dumbfounded that there was no mandatory physical fitness or mandatory formations,” Savage said.

Savage told the soldiers that he works with the military’s satellite control network. 

“We’re making sure that you guys have the capability to get information you need from the satellite birds to the remote tracking station, all the way to the user,” he said. “They were pretty excited to learn about that and they were grateful to have us on their team.”

“I tell them I work in acquisitions and then I have to explain again what acquisition is because most of them aren’t familiar with that term,” Jennings said. “So I kind of explain to them that I basically work with high tech routers that transport data from one side of the country to the other.”

Jennings and Savagewere selected to participate in the spur ride through their connection with a fellow Guardian, Capt. Bradley Evans, who also earned his spurs at the event. Evans met the 6/1 CAV commander during a Norwegian Ruck March and elicited an invitation.

The Spur Ride is one of several connections that modern cavalry units maintain to connect with their western heritage. Cavalry soldiers honor their cowboy origins by reciting the reenlistment oath on horseback while wearing the 19th century Cavalry uniform with gloves, a Stetson hat, and boot spurs. Cavalry scouts’ Horse Cavalry Detachment continues to be used for ceremonial and recruitment purposes.

In March, the Army asked current cavalry scouts to change their MOS and volunteer to fill some of the service positions facing shortages like cyber or air defense artillery. 

Space Force troops have completed a number of daunting military training in the last year. In October, Space Force Capt. Daniel Reynolds graduated from the Army’s Ranger School and other Guardians have been lining up for a chance to earn their Ranger tab.

Both officers said they wanted to be part of history by setting the standards for the military’s newest branch, established in 2018. 

In another historic moment, Jennings also happened to be the first ROTC unit to commission into the Space Force.

“This is brand new uncharted territory in a sense. And I want to be one of the front runners, part of the space force – determine the culture of it and how the branch is gonna be throughout like the rest of the time,” Jennings said. “I just thought that was a cool opportunity to be one of the first people to be a part of this new branch.”  

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