When she taught history to a young Chance Saltzman at Bowling Green High School in the 1980s, Patsy Sloan knew the youngster was going to reach great heights.
“He was an extremely gifted student,” said Sloan, who was Bowling Green’s mayor from 1988 through 1991.
She didn’t know those heights would be exospheric.
Saltzman, a 1987 BGHS graduate, was promoted last month to the rank of three-star general and transferred to the Pentagon, where he is deputy chief of space operations, cyber and nuclear for the newly established U.S. Space Force.
Essentially, Saltzman is chief operations officer for the Space Force, meaning he has responsibility for intelligence, operations, sustainment, cyber and nuclear operations for a branch of the U.S. armed forces that was established in 2019.
One of six three-star generals serving under Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond at the Pentagon, Saltzman is playing an essential role in establishing a military branch that is charged with protecting the interests of the U.S. in space.
It’s the culmination of a career that started when Saltzman was commissioned via the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1991 after graduating from Boston University.
Saltzman has operated missile and space systems as a Minuteman III launch officer and as a satellite operator for the National Reconnaissance Office. Most recently, he served as deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command in southwest Asia.
Saltzman’s rise through the ranks has been nothing short of meteoric, but Sloan isn’t surprised. She saw him as a shooting star back at BGHS, where Saltzman was her student aide.
“One thing that differentiated him was that he knew what needed to be done and he took care of it,” Sloan said. “It was obvious that he was destined for success no matter what he chose to do, but I didn’t picture him in that (military) role.”
Neither did former Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Tinius, who was Saltzman’s tennis coach at BGHS.
“He was a very good tennis player and an outstanding student,” Tinius said. “He certainly showed a lot of leadership qualities, but I was a little surprised when he joined the Air Force.”
While surprised that Saltzman took a military route, Tinius isn’t at all shocked that he has excelled. He remembers the work ethic that Saltzman displayed even as a teenager.
“He had a real commitment to being a good tennis player,” Tinius said. “He would go to early-morning tennis practice before school started. That’s a real commitment for a high school kid.
“There was a sense that when he made up his mind that he was going to do something, he stuck to it.”
That’s a quality that has helped him throughout his military career, Saltzman’s mother said.
“We never thought about Chance being in the military,” Belinda Saltzman said. “But it (ROTC) was a way of paying for school.
“It ended up being one of those things none of us expected. He was disciplined and always very goal-oriented. I think the military just fit the bill. If you have goals and work toward them, you can be successful.”
That drive to reach his goals has led Chance Saltzman to earn three master’s degrees and complete various military courses in weapons and leadership.
“We were family friends with his parents,” Tinius said. “It seemed like every time we met with them he was advancing through the ranks.”
For Saltzman, the career path started simply as a way of getting the education he wanted at a prestigious university.
“I was lucky enough for the Air Force to offer me a scholarship,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about a career, but I kind of fell in love with the mission and the people. I’ve had one great job after another.”
That advancement has led the three-star general to perhaps his most daunting assignment yet: helping build a new branch of the military.
Established as a military service branch within the Department of the Air Force, the Space Force has a $15.3 billion budget this year to fulfill its mission of providing freedom of operation for the U.S. in, from and to space.
Saltzman noted the Space Force is protecting the interests of the military and civilians who routinely rely on satellite technology for communication and navigation.
“Our space capabilities are critical to our everyday American way of life,” he said. “That’s not lost on our competitors, so we have to determine how we can protect our advantages.”
Saltzman compares the role of the Space Force to that of household security systems that can deter theft or other crimes.
“One of the most powerful things we can do is call out bad behavior and deter that behavior,” he said. “There will come a time when that may not be enough.”
While putting the technology in place to guard space assets against harm, Saltzman is also helping build a brand for a military branch in its infancy.
“It comes with a lot of pressure,” he said. “We’re making decisions about everything from uniforms to the Space Force song and motto. We’re on the ground floor. The culture we establish will be critical to the job we do.”
Although he doesn’t get back often, Saltzman said visiting Bowling Green is one of the best ways of dealing with the pressures of his job.
“We’re all products of our upbringing and environment, and Bowling Green has always been home,” he said. “I stay in touch with family and friends there. No matter how high up the ladder I climb, I still enjoy talking to people back home.”
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