The sophomores will become the first UNC-Chapel Hill AFROTC cadets to commission into the U.S. Space Force upon their graduation in 2025.
A Tar Heel trio will become new guardians of the galaxy.
Avery Berg, Juliana Boerema and Gabriel Palmer are among the class of 135 Air Force cadets recently selected nationwide to commission into the U.S. Space Force.
The Space Force was established in 2019, creating the first new branch of the U.S. armed services in 73 years. Space Force personnel, organized under the Air Force, are called Guardians.
“As the first AFROTC candidates from UNC, cadets Berg, Boerema and Palmer went through a highly competitive selection process to be selected to become Guardians,” said Lt. Col. Brie Vihlen, department chair, professor of aerospace studies and commander of AFRTOC Detachment 590 in the College of Arts and Sciences. “This is truly a historic achievement, and we’re extremely proud to have the future of the U.S. Space Force right here at UNC! It’s a testament to the caliber of students at the University and the cadets in our AFROTC program for them to be selected to be leaders in global space operations.”
The branch’s establishment resulted from “widespread recognition that space was a national security imperative,” according to the Space Force website. Guardians can pursue career fields such as space operations, cyberspace effects operations, intelligence, acquisitions or engineering, according to Vihlen.
The sky is the limit for these three Carolina cadets — meet the new Guardians below.
Berg is a native of Smithfield, North Carolina, and has been accepted into the UNC School of Nursing in the fall.
Berg decided to join Detachment 590, also known as Blue Heaven, “on a whim” since both of her parents had served in the Air Force. After only a few months in the program during her first year, she knew that she had made the right choice.
“I started to learn just how valuable the Air Force is for leadership and personal growth,” she said. “My favorite college memories have been alongside my peers in AFROTC. I have been so blessed to have amazing peers to grow with throughout my Carolina journey and to have them as lifelong friends.”
Berg chose to pursue a nursing major because the medical field has always interested her. Through the Space Force, her top career choice is acquisitions, but she is also interested in learning more about the intelligence field.
This summer she will attend a 17-day ROTC training evaluation at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and will pursue a professional development capstone at Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, to learn more about how Space Force operates. She’ll also work at her family’s ice cream truck before returning to campus as a resident assistant (RA) with Carolina Housing.
“I am eager to see where the Space Force is going to take me as a person and as a leader,” she said.
Boerema is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, and is pursuing double majors in Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures and peace, war and defense with an aerospace studies minor.
Boerema said joining the Space Force offers her an opportunity to impact the culture of a new and growing profession in the military.
“I originally became interested in the Space Force after I was given the opportunity to study Russian disinformation and space culture at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the summer of 2022,” she said. “I look forward to serving my country in such a unique way.”
UNC AFROTC has helped her to learn what it means to lead well.
“True leadership is a complex concept, and the AFROTC community has supported and guided me in my journey to develop as an effective leader within ROTC and as a student at UNC,” she said.
Boerema will also attend field training at Maxwell Air Force Base this summer. After that, she has been selected for a professional development opportunity with nuclear command and control in space operations at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. She will also help run her family’s flower shop.
Palmer is a native of Cameron, North Carolina, and a management and society major.
He is interested in pursuing an intelligence officer position within the Space Force “because of the opportunity to apply my knowledge of history and strategy and make use of collective intelligence.”
“I am proud to have this opportunity as it has been a goal of mine to join the Space Force since its establishment,” Palmer said. “It’s an honor to have this goal fulfilled.”
Palmer said that AFROTC has provided him with a community of people with ambition levels that match or exceed his own.
“They influence me by pointing out where and how I can improve my abilities, which has led to a better experience at Carolina,” he said.
Palmer’s summer plans include attending field training at Maxwell Air Force Base, working on personal physical training and learning skills that will contribute to his future career.
By Kim Spurr, College of Arts and Sciences