Exploring a new frontier

Kelani Vestil becomes the first Space Force guardian to enlist in Indiana 

By Nicole Davis

Kelani Vestil was in his middle school’s magnet program when he launched his first rocket. Around that age, he took a tour of a NASA space center and found himself in awe of the scale of the rockets and technology behind them. That interest in space, technology and engineering only continued to grow.

Today, he is officially the first United States Space Force guardian to enlist in the state of Indiana. He swore in on Feb. 19.

Space Force: the U.S. military’s newest branch

Space Force was founded Dec. 20, 2019 as the newest military branch under the department of the Air Force. Space Force is its own branch, with its own terminology and ranking system.

“This is the next generation of military,” said Technical Sergeant Chavis Kendrick of the Southside Air & Space Force recruiting center. “Space Force can provide information we need about outer space and the galaxy that we may not know. We’re going to push the limits and explore and discover things that haven’t been discovered yet. It’s going to take the young men and women of today to make that happen, to drive that force forward. I think the future is bright for the Space Force.”

The path to become Indiana’s first guardian

From left, Kelani Vestil, Indiana’s first Space Force guardian recruit and Technical Sergeant Chavis Kendrick of the Southside Air & Space Force recruiting center. *Photo by Nicole Davis.

Vestil grew up on the Southside of Indianapolis and Nashville, Ind. but moved to San Antonio at 7 years old. He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School where he went through a special engineering program. He was on the First Robotics Competition team as team secretary and building officer his senior year and was captain for the rocketry team his sophomore and junior years. He enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona in 2020, during the peak of COVID-19 precautions, to major in space engineering but left after the fall semester and moved to Indiana.

“College right now is all online,” Vestil said. “It’s so hard to learn in that type of environment. It’s not what I paid for, so I decided to drop out.”

His dream job was to work at Elon Musk’s SpaceX or even start his own aerospace business. But having left college, he was unsure of what he was actually going to do. He threw around the idea of careers outside of the space industry, but nothing seemed fitting. Then his mother informed him she’d seen the first batch of recruits for the Space Force graduate basic.

“I kept tabs on (Space Force) but I didn’t expect them to be enlisting people until much later,” Vestil said. “It’s made me really happy and taken a weight off my shoulders. Before, I was really anxious because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life career-wise. I haven’t started basic training yet, but I know what I can do now. I have better direction and I can stay in the space industry.”

Vestil was the first person Kendrick spoke with who was positive he wanted to enlist in the Space Force. It was a two-month process to complete the physical, pass qualifications and get to the point of swearing in. He is in the delayed-entry program which means he has chosen which careers he would be interested in and once he is matched with a career, he will begin bootcamp in San Antonio. Vestil’s top career choice is space system operations. The process to reserve a career typically takes six to nine months, Kendrick said.

Kendricks said when recruiting for the Space Force, like for the Air Force, they are looking for individuals with an attitude of innovation, a desire to progress things further, who are able to adapt, grow and lead. He said Vestil represents those qualities.

Being so new, Space Force will continue to expand and the opportunities to grow with it is something that Vestil said he finds exciting.

“I’ve always been a Star Trek fan,” Vestil said. “That’s how I see the Space Force right now. I see it as my Star Fleet. It’s an opportunity for exploring a new field, a new area. It’s a new frontier.”