Approximately 100 ROTC students nationwide were selected to fulfill officer duties in the Space Force. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Air Force ROTC student Taylor Ziepke was recently selected in a highly competitive process to be a Space Operations Officer in the United States Space Force, and will begin her specialized training upon graduation in May 2024.
As the youngest and smallest branch of the Department of Defense, the United States Space Force offers a pathway to contribute to the nation’s defense in a complex, ever-evolving and challenging domain.
Cadet Ziepke, a mathematics major, was born in Omaha and grew up dreaming of being an astronaut one day.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been obsessed with outer space,” Ziepke said. “I would spend hours watching space movies such as ‘Interstellar’ or ‘Contact,’ reading books about space or written by famous astronauts, or driving out to the country to look at the stars with my family and see who could spot the most shooting stars. I knew I wanted to serve my country, and when they announced that our country would be making the Space Force, I knew it had to be fate. Hearing about the creation of the Space Force felt like a sign of where I need to be. I knew the path to it would not be easy, but I felt in my heart that it was a dream worth chasing.”
The USSF is the most recent branch to be a part of the Department of Defense and was added as the fifth branch of the DoD under the Trump Administration in 2019. Although officially standing up in recent years, the United States military has been operating in space for decades. This transition is testament of the growing demand and multi-domain battle space.
The Air Force ROTC program provides students a unique opportunity to become a commissioned officer in the USSF once they complete their training at the university, but because the USSF is so small (approximately 16,000 active-duty and civilian personnel), job opportunities do not come easy. Students must compete, demonstrating high character, strong academics and the ability to lead and make tough decisions to manage the newest branch of our nation’s most trusted institution.
Cadet Ziepke is completing her fourth and final year in the program and reflected on the developmental experiences that contributed to her growth.
“The two weeks at Maxwell AFB in Alabama was probably the hardest thing I have ever done,” Ziepke said. “Every day I was faced with a new challenge, whether that was dealing with homesickness, being flight commander, taking a test, or facing my fear of heights on the obstacle course.”
While challenging, Field Training is also a rite of passage to becoming an officer. ROTC’s Field Training is a two week boot camp-style training and evaluation that all cadets are required to attend.
“As I left on the bus to go to the airport, all of the officers, enlisted staff and cadet training assistants lined the sidewalks and saluted us as we drove off the base,” she said. “It was a bittersweet moment and I had never felt prouder of myself in that moment for believing in myself and never giving up.”
Since being part of the Detachment, Taylor worked her way up the ranks, holding some of the highest levels of student leadership. Most recently, she was the Cadet Vice Wing Commander.
In addition to her full-time studies, she was responsible for strategically managing and overseeing a 42-person student organization to ensure they organize, motivate and train to meet the curriculum requirements established by the Air Force Education and Training Command’s Air University. Hearing the news that she had been selected into the Space Force and that all her hard work was about to pay off made her head spin.
“I remember sitting in front of the Commander and not fully processing the words ‘space operations’ as he told me of my selection.” Ziepke said. “I definitely shed a few tears and was over the moon excited.”
Not only has Ziepke made a positive impression on her faculty and staff, but she earned the respect of her peers as well.
“She has always been a mentor to me,” Cadet Madison Pozzi, a junior, said. “She has always been a very positive and hardworking person. [Taylor] is always cheering on others in the detachment…Her determination inspires me most.”
Cadet Ziepke’s ultimate goal is to play a role in making a difference in the world.
“I want to be a role model for others to never give up on your dreams no matter how challenging the road ahead will be,” she said. “I want to be the best officer I can be and to inspire every aspiring Space Force Guardian that the sky is not the limit.”
Ziepke is one of the first members, and first female, in Detachment 465’s program history to join the Space Force.