Center Grove Alum Joins U.S. Space Force
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
As a kid, Matt Crafton was fascinated with the military and dreamed of one day joining the ranks. After speaking to various recruiters while in high school, he felt that the Air Force was a good fit for him, so he enlisted after graduating from Center Grove High School in 2005. He left in July of that year for San Antonio, Texas, to attend basic training at Lackland Air Force Base.
Though he has been deployed twice, having spent his nineteenth and twenty-first birthdays deployed, the majority of his career has been in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When Crafton was deployed he did not have a wife or children, and he requested to work with security forces. It was a rugged schedule, including shifts on many holidays.
“They never have enough people who want to do it because you have a lot less freedom than other jobs, but I got to do convoys and training exercises that 80% to 90% of the Air Force never gets to do, so I don’t regret it,” Crafton says.
Still, he recognized this way of life would make it difficult to start a family so he transitioned into communications, where he did enterprise-level network infrastructure for the Air Force. He then applied for a special duty as a defense courier.
“It’s like a classified UPS man,” says Crafton, who serviced Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. “We transported anything that was classified – nuclear codes for submarines or missile fields, all the way down to classified training records.”
In his current job, he leads a team that is responsible for scheduling and infrastructure support for Global Hawks, which are unmanned surveillance drones that fly all over the world and can survey as many as 40,000 square miles of terrain per day.
“If a terrorist leader gets killed, it’s almost guaranteed that the Global Hawk drone provided some type of support to those troops,” Crafton says. “I’m not a pilot, but we coordinate and manage everything for that.”
Crafton was recently chosen to be one of the few initial rollovers to the new Space Force program, which is charged to secure all U.S. space assets such as satellites and GPS systems. The Space Force is the sixth branch of the U.S. military with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Though he’s still not sure of his exact duties in the program, he’ll be working on mission defense teams where he’ll be responsible for protecting assets, including communications links, hacking prevention and cyber security.
“It’s a very cyber security-based position,” Crafton says. “It’s pretty much anything that has to do with the links going from the ground to the satellites, and making sure those aren’t interrupted.”
Since the Space Force program is just over a year old, fewer than 3,000 people currently serve in this branch, which is drastically smaller than other military branches. According to Crafton, the Air Force has more than 380,000 members.
It’s such a new program that dress uniform and ranks are not yet established. This excites Crafton, as he hopes to be invited to weigh in with suggestions for the program.
“I think it will be cool to have input over that, and they seem very open in soliciting ideas and advice,” Crafton says. “I also think it would be exciting for my kid’s kid’s kid to be able to say, ‘My great-great-grandfather was one of the first people in the Space Force when it was formed.’”
When COVID-19 first hit, the military was affected along with everyone else.
“We got locked down and told we couldn’t take our accumulated leave,” Crafton says.
That meant summer vacations were cancelled, as were his plans for a big wedding ceremony last September with his wife Brittany.
“We’ve basically been restricted to only being able to venture two to three hours from the base,” Crafton says. “On the plus side, I have 55 days saved up that I can carry over.”
Having spent so much time out west, Crafton has become an avid skier and has taught his 10-year-old son Chason to enjoy the slopes as well.
“He’s been skiing since he was three,” Crafton says. “He’s my ski buddy. I feel extremely lucky to be stationed somewhere with mountains my entire career.”
He and his family also love to go camping and explore national parks.
“If we see a brown sign on the side of the road, we pull over and check it out,” says Crafton, who also enjoys biking and running.
In fact, he loves nature so much that when he retires from the military in four-and-a-half years, he may pursue a career in forest service or ski patrol.
“I can’t imagine not being in the Air Force,” Crafton says. “It’s weird to think, ‘Here I am 15 years in, and it feels like a blink later.’”
Though he’s technically separating from the Air Force in order to join the Space Force, Crafton is pleased that his dream job turned out to be everything he hoped it would be and more.
“Honestly, the most rewarding part is mentoring other people,” he says. “I enjoy conveying life and military experiences with them, to help them be the best they can be.”
Crafton and his wife are expecting a baby in July, so as Crafton begins his new career reaching for the stars, good things are on the horizon.
“Once we’re able to start traveling again, it’s going to be the greatest thing ever,” he adds.