VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. – On Aug. 22, 2022, the Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC) welcomed Maj. Gen. Douglas A. Schiess and his wife, Mrs. Debbie Schiess, took command of the unit as the general. Since taking command, the two have been busy settling into their new role, meeting CFSCC members, and setting priorities for the command. In order for members of CFSCC and the greater Vandenberg team to learn more about the Schiesses, public affairs had the pleasure of sitting down with both for a Q&A to know their story, vision, and priorities.
Q: Where did you grow up?
SCHIESS: “I grew up in California and eventually my family found our way to a small town called Yucaipa, California. We were high school sweethearts. We both attended college in the Los Angeles area.”
DEBBIE: “We met in the fifth grade. I wasn’t too impressed with him back then, but he eventually won me over and we ended up getting married halfway through college.”
Schiess was a Distinguished Graduate of the University of California Los Angeles’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in 1992 and transferred to the U.S. Space Force in 2022.
Q: What was your inspiration to join the military?
SCHIESS: “I had a great Uncle in the Army during WWII and my Dad was in the Air Force at the end of Vietnam, but overall I did not have a huge military family per se. I came from lower middle class and didn’t know how I would pay for college. Through a local job I was doing in high school at the time, I became friends with one of the high school counselors and he said there was a chance to get some scholarships. He walked me through some of the different options and that’s when I started to look at ROTC.”
“So initially, it was to pay for college. It wasn’t until I got into ROTC and immersed myself in the detachment there, and learned how the military operates, that I found out this is something I really want to be about.
“At the time, I did tell Debbie we would only do five years – just the commitment needed to payback the scholarship. And that’s really what I thought at the time. But we got done with one assignment and then another, and suddenly, we were much further down the road. Five years was a long time ago, and now here we are at 30!”
During those 30 years, the couple traveled to numerous different assignments to include two previous assignments at Vandenberg, one for Schiess’s initial training in 1993 and another time to be the Launch Crew Commander and Launch Controller for the 2nd Space Launch Squadron in 1997. More recently, Schiess has commanded the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo, and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. He also deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in 2014 in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Resolute Support, and Inherent Resolve.
Q: What aspect were you looking forward to most when you knew you were coming back to the Central Coast, or specifically back to Vandenberg?
DEBBIE: “I love this area. I love being close to the beach, the cool temperatures and being in wine country. It’s also only three and a half hours from some of my close family. It has been a long time since we’ve been that close to family and that was one of the draws for me.”
SCHIESS: “The preceding leaders of the 14th Air Force have always been here at Vandenberg from the space community, and it’s been extremely special to think about coming back and following some of the leaders that have had that job and its successor organizations. This really is a dream job to come back in this capacity to be the Commander for the Combined Force Space Component Command.”
Q: In your career, what assignment has stood out to you the most?
SCHIESS: “There’s lots, actually.”
DEBBIE: “Yeah, how much time do you have?”
SCHIESS: “Exactly,” Schiess said as he laughed. “You know when I was talking to my team, I joke that I’m an operator and I have done operations most of my career and so I love to do that. It is in my nature to run checklists and I loved every one of those assignments. Also, I love being a commander and taking care of people in that capacity.”
“However, you can’t always be in operations or a commander so one of the assignments I had that I think was crucial to my understanding of how the government works was when I got to be a legislative liaison at the Pentagon. I had the space and missiles operations portfolio and so it was my job to help the professional staffers that work for the senators and representatives understand the space and missile community and what it brings to the fight. Also, I got to help our senior leaders as they go over to the Hill to testify and talk to the senators and representatives. I got to see more than just the military side of things and experience the executive and legislative branches and how we all work together to defend our nation. That was an eye-opening assignment for me.”
Debbie has also seen her role as a spouse change throughout different assignments and missions, requiring her to take on new responsibilities, including guiding other spouses and providing insight to the resources available to spouses and families.
Q: How has your role as a military spouse evolved over time?
DEBBIE: “Definitely the first time we had a command tour, I realized how many resources were available that I was not aware of. That was really a turning point for me, and I wanted to become dedicated to helping other spouses not be as in the dark as I was. I really have made it my mission since then to be involved with the families to help them and find resources for them when they need them. It has been an amazing opportunity during command tours for me to really be with families during sacred moments in their lives and has been a rewarding and enriching experience for me.”
Q: How important is it to stay involved and feel connected to the military family to provide that support? What is some advice or programs you recommend for new spouses getting acquainted with military life?
DEBBIE: “We operate as a team. I need to also be plugged in to the base community and know what’s going on so I don’t feel like I’m along for the ride. It’s really important for us to operate that way and I encourage other spouses to take that same approach if they feel it would be helpful. That’s just what worked for us.”
“One of the programs I think is extremely helpful is Heartlink. It’s designed for newer spouses and immerses them in what the base has to offer. I still go to it every base we go to. It connects to other spouses and allows me to figure out what resources that base has. I highly recommend it.
Also, reach out and get in touch with your Key Spouse. It is always good to know who that person is.”
The next Heartlink event will take place Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. To sign up for the event, please contact the Military Family Readiness Center at 805-606-0039 or email Renee Olivas at [email protected].
Q: Becoming a general in the military is no small feat, and I’m sure all who have accomplished it would admit they did not do it alone. How has your family been integral to your work-life balance throughout your military journey?
SCHIESS: “I think for us as a family, including our daughters who are now adults, it was really, ‘How can we do this together?’ so that it was part of all our sacrifice. I know that I couldn’t have done it if they weren’t on board. All the moves and being deployed, it really was us working together and seeing it as a family sacrifice. It is not always easy but we got through it as a team.
DEBBIE: We just had the Sept. 11 commemoration, and that tragic event was a huge shift for our family. He was young in his career, and our kids were small, and that’s when it changed from being about his career to more about our family’s service to this country. It has been great to see him succeed individually and move up the ranks, but that hasn’t been the point. The point is ‘How can we serve?’ and as long as that door stays open to give us the opportunity to serve, we are going to keep doing it.”
When taking command, it is important for a leader to establish their priorities and goals to provide direction to the members under their leadership. The next questions directed towards general Schiess help to communicate his vision for CFSCC.
Q: What are your priorities as the CFSCC commander?
SCHIESS: “Our first priority is that ‘We are ready to fight tonight.’ As USSPACECOM’s component that brings operational space capabilities to the war fight, the combatant commands and to our coalition partners. We must be ready to execute our mission today. That’s not just the Combined Space Operations Center but all our centers and our 70+ tactical units that are doing the job day in and day out.”
“Secondly, we need to continue to elevate and strengthen our partnerships with our coalition partners. We can’t do this without them. We need to make sure we are continually bringing them in to our conversations, so they feel they are part of the team.
“Thirdly, we need to make sure we are working with our commercial partners as well. Both, to be able to help them in times of need and then also, making sure we are using everything that we can to be the best effective force we can be.”
“Fight tonight. Coalition. Commercial.”
Q: What sort of environment or culture do you hope to inspire in your time here?
SCHIESS: “We want everyone to feel part of the family. We want everyone to feel they have a safe place to work, and to feel they have the dignity and respect they need to do their work. We want everyone to feel like they are part of the team. Also, I want us to feel confident in our job by being properly trained so we know how to do what we need to do, when we need to do it. That’s the culture we want.”
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge we face as a unit, and what are some ways we could overcome that challenge?
SCHIESS: “I think anyone in the military right now, but those specifically in the Space Force, would ask ‘Do we have enough resources to do our job?”
“It’s not to say someone isn’t giving us what we need but there is just so much to do, and we have to make sure we are not leaning on a specific group too heavily. That’s a big challenge.”
“Also, we don’t want to rest on our laurels. There are adversaries out there that know space is an integral part of our joint war fighting concept and so we need to make sure that we continue to get better each day.”
Q: Why is it important to work with coalition partners and allies, and how can we continue to build and strengthen those connections?
SCHIESS: “Nobody does this alone. We have incredible partnerships, some of them going back to WWII and even probably before, and it signifies to them they are part of the team. It is all about relationships and working together to combine each other’s resources to become a stronger team. They also bring resources that we don’t have, which, going back to our biggest challenge, greatly helps us.”
Q: Space is a warfighting domain. How is CFSCC’s mission critical to the safety of our troops, the protection of our nation and our allied and partnered nations, and ultimately, continuing our way of life?
SCHIESS: “We provide an incredible array of what I call ‘Enabling Operations.’ A great example is Global Positioning System and providing that to the war fighter and weapons systems. We bring it to the Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman or Guardian out there to allow them to do their job.”
“We are that enabling force that brings all these space activities to the war fighter. Quite frankly if we weren’t there it would take them back decades in terms of capabilities. We bring that edge that makes all those war fighters even better, while also defending those assets in a contested environment. They know we’ll be there when they need us.”
The next Commander’s all call will be held on Nov. 4, during which CFSCC members will have an opportunity to ask their own questions.