Last fall, a Space Force guardian went where no one from the newest military branch had gone before: Army Ranger School.

Space Force Capt. Daniel Reynolds in October became the first in his service to graduate from the prestigious training program, setting a precedent for other guardians and further cementing the service’s place in the joint force. That trailblazing accomplishment earned Reynolds Military Times’ 2024 Guardian of the Year award.

“When I first arrived at Ranger School, I was nervous,” Reynolds, 29, told Military Times. “But what I also realized, as I checked in, was that everyone around me was feeling the exact same way.”

The Army’s premier tactics and leadership course — a three-part, 62-day gauntlet through mountains and swamps that prepares an elite infantry force for tasks like raids, airfield seizures and special reconnaissance — is among the military’s most rigorous mental and physical tests.

While there were times Reynolds said he hit a wall, he knew that he wanted to become the best possible version of himself. When he succeeded, his father, a fellow Ranger School graduate, pinned on the new tab.

Unlike other Ranger School graduates, Reynolds won’t necessarily use those newfound skills in a firefight or to gather intelligence behind enemy lines. But he expressed that gaining firsthand knowledge of how elite field units work can improve how the Space Force supports them, and that the Ranger mindset can be useful in any job.

The Space Force pioneer encouraged others in his service to follow in his footsteps and attend the course to develop the creative thinking, empathy and resiliency that he argued all troops need to succeed.

“We have to be well-equipped to tackle complex challenges, and to apply decisive and bold leadership,” Reynolds said. “It’s so critically important that we continue to develop and fine-tune those leadership traits that are so necessary in the space domain and in the air domain.”

He was recently accepted as an instructor at the Air Force Security Forces Center’s Ranger Assessment Course — which coaches and evaluates airmen and guardians for nomination to the grueling Ranger School — where he hopes to further motivate the next generation of Ranger-qualified leaders.

Only a few airmen and guardians are given the opportunity to attempt to attend the course each year. Over 350 airmen have graduated since the service first began sending troops to Ranger School in 1955, the service said, and the Department of the Air Force continues to look for those ready to take on the challenge.

Now the assistant director of operations for the 4th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, Reynolds helps manage a team of more than 100 guardians with a multibillion-dollar portfolio of Space Force capabilities. In his role, he helps ensure that new space systems, like missile-warning technologies, meet the needs of troops who rely on them in daily operations.

Demand for and interest in protecting American space assets — which allow U.S. troops to communicate, maneuver and attack in missions around the globe — from competitors like China and Russia continues to grow, more than four years after the Space Force was established. For instance, the White House publicly confirmed in February that Russia was pursuing a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon that allegedly would violate the international Outer Space Treaty, which bans the deployment of conventional and nuclear weapons in space.

The work of Reynolds’ team helps ensure new hardware and software can reach the field as new missions and threats arise.

Originally from Aschaffenburg, Germany, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate earned his commission in 2017. He received his master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019, where he simultaneously worked as a research fellow at a laboratory that tested flight control strategies for Gateway, NASA’s cutting-edge lunar space station.

In November 2020, Reynolds joined a space-focused Air Force unit that later evolved into his current squadron as the Space Force took on missions from the other services. He formally transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force in February 2021.

Before he earned his Ranger tab, Reynolds was no stranger to making astronomical achievements.

He became the first guardian to graduate from the Army’s Air Assault School in 2021. The next year, he followed that feat by becoming the first guardian to complete the Army’s 28-day Sapper Leader Course.

Meanwhile, Reynolds finds time to volunteer with the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Air Force’s Language-Enabled Airman Program, which deploys troops who speak a foreign language to act as conduits with U.S. partners and allies during joint operations. Reynolds is fluent in German.

Since 2020, he has also served as America’s senior representative to the Space Generation Advisory Council, a nonprofit that represents thousands of students and young professionals at the United Nations.

He credits his family for serving as his role models, and countless others for helping him achieve out-of-this-world successes.

“I am who I am because of so many phenomenal mentors, leaders, teachers, professors, instructors, friends, colleagues,” he said. “I am here because of them.”

For the past 23 years, Service Members of the Year awards have honored one outstanding military (active duty, Guard or Reserve) member from each branch of service. They are selected based on exemplary military service that goes beyond the call of duty. The honorees and their families are being flown to Washington, D.C., for a visit to the nation’s capital and a special awards ceremony attended by congressional, military and community leaders. The awards ceremony will take place on April 24, 2024. To watch the livestream of the event, register here.

See all of Military Times’ 2024 Service Members of the Year honorees.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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