U.S. Space Force soon will have a new major general in vital roles. He grew up in Boise

While growing up in Boise, Brig. Gen. James Smith frequently listened to his grandfather tell war stories about his experiences in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Those stories, coupled with a fascination for space, inspired Smith to launch a similar career path — but he wasn’t quite sure exactly what that would look like.

After weighing several options, Smith eventually decided to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. He thought he wanted to fly and become an astronaut, and the Air Force Academy seemed like the best spot to start that trajectory, according to a news release announcing a major promotion for Smith.

“I found out pretty early at the Air Force Academy I wasn’t in love with flying to the same extent as many others,” Smith said in the release. “But I did really enjoy the astronautical engineering courses.”

So Smith changed his plan. He gave up his original dreams of flying and graduated the Air Force Academy with a degree in astronomics, which led to a 22-year career in the Air Force working space programs and space operations.

On June 21, Smith will have a new rank, according to the United States Space Force — a promotion to major general. Smith has been serving as the assistant deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear. After his promotion, Smith will also assume the responsibility of vice director for joint force development on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military board that serves the secretary of defense and President Joe Biden, the release said.

Smith has worked for the Space Force since it was established in 2019. Getting involved with it was an obvious decision, he said in the release.

“It was a natural transition and incredible opportunity,” Smith said. “To continue working national space issues in a new service with a renewed focus on the criticality of defending our space capabilities.”

Smith will also serve as the principal assistant to the director of joint force development, and will become the first member of the Space Force to fill a director or vice director role on the Joint Staff, the release said.

Smith’s family, including his parents and older sister, still live in Boise. He credited his upbringing in Ada County and education at Meridian High School for helping him get further than he ever expected in his career.

“Growing up in a tight-knit community surrounded by family and great friends, I learned to value the freedoms and benefits of our American way of life,” Smith said in the release. “My experiences (in Idaho) reinforced a belief that through hard work and perseverance, just about any opportunity is open to you.”

Smith was the top graduate of the Air Force Academy in 1997 and went on to get a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999, according to his Space Force bio page. In 2019, he was awarded with the National Reconnaissance Office Gold Medal of Distinguished Performance.

During his 22-year Air Force career, Smith spent time deployed in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and served at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to his bio. He also served as the deputy U.S. military representative to NATO at NATO headquarters in Belgium.