Colorado officials hopeful about Space Command as new evidence of Trump’s meddling emerges
Letter from Republican Colorado Springs mayor details revealing conversation with the former president
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Harris, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” advance crew chief, assists U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Elliot, Thunderbirds commander and leader, after landing at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, May 23, 2022. (U.S. Space Force photo by Paul Honnick/Public domain)
Colorado elected officials have prioritized the fight to keep Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs ever since former President Donald Trump reportedly made the call to move it to Huntsville, Alabama, more than two years ago. Now they are hopeful that a decision to allow the command to stay in Colorado could be coming from the White House or the Pentagon soon.
The entire Colorado congressional delegation has advocated keeping Space Command in Colorado out of concerns for national security, and moving and building a new base from scratch in Alabama would be more time-consuming and costly to taxpayers, they say. Military leaders have said Space Command could reach full operational capacity at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs much faster than it could anywhere else, with the lowest cost and disruption to their mission.
Elected officials including Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs are outspoken on why keeping Space Command in Colorado is in the best interest of national security.
“We’re helping Ukraine deal with Russia, but Russia has already shot down one of their own satellites to show that they could do it,” Hickenlooper told Newsline. “With a rivalry with China and the aggression of Russia, we can’t afford to weaken by one iota our full operating capability of Space Command. Space Command is more important than it ever has been before.”
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As a senior leader on the House Armed Services Committee and chair of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, Lamborn regularly engages with Air Force leadership. In these conversations he continuously advocates for Colorado Springs, so Lamborn’s team is encouraged to see the White House is potentially ready to respond, according to David Ignatius of The Washington Post. Peterson, which is in Lamborn’s district, has always served as the headquarters for Space Command throughout its various iterations.
“I am encouraged by reporting from the Washington Post indicating that the White House and Pentagon share my concerns that relocating U.S. Space Command headquarters would create an unnecessary delay in the command reaching full operational capability,” Lamborn said in an email. “Our adversaries are racing to gain an advantage in space, and it is fundamental that we urgently organize to meet that threat. I will continue to engage with military leadership on this issue and advocate for Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs as the permanent home of U.S. Space Command until a final decision is made.”
Earlier this month, Lamborn questioned General James Dickinson, commander of Space Command, at a Strategic Forces hearing about the readiness challenges he would face if headquarters moves to Alabama. Dickinson said the command reached initial operational capability a couple years ago and is quickly moving toward full operational capability in Colorado Springs. Military leaders historically favored Colorado Springs as headquarters when a move was initially being considered in late 2020 and early 2021.
“To me, it’s all about readiness. It’s all about being able to do the mission sets that I’ve been given by the President of the United States, and so as we move with resourcing … both infrastructure as well as people — which are the most important part of the command — we’re moving in that direction,” Dickinson said about reaching full operational readiness at Peterson.
Our adversaries are racing to gain an advantage in space, and it is fundamental that we urgently organize to meet that threat. I will continue to engage with military leadership on this issue and advocate for Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs as the permanent home of U.S. Space Command until a final decision is made.
– U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn
Politically motivated decisions
Many officials, including outgoing Republican Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, expressed concern that Trump’s decision to relocate Space Command to Alabama, which voted for Trump in 2020, was politically motivated. Suthers wrote a letter this month to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall detailing conversations Suthers had with Trump about how he planned to make the decision after he saw the results of the 2020 election.
“When I once again made my pitch to President Trump, he asked me if I was a Republican mayor,” Suthers wrote in the letter. “When I replied that I was, he asked what his chances were of carrying Colorado in the November election. When I said they were ‘uncertain’ he seemed perturbed.”
Suthers said Trump then asked a high-ranking Space Force officer if Colorado Springs is where the headquarters should be, to which the officer replied, “Absolutely, Mr. President.” Trump then reiterated that he wanted to see how the elections turned out before deciding, according to Suthers’ letter.
“He gave me a clue early on that he was probably going to wait until after the election, and made it very clear in my February conversation with him that he wanted to see how the election turned out before he made the decision,” Suthers told Newsline. “I don’t think anything could have been more indicative of the fact that it was a political decision.”
Suthers said Hickenlooper was the one who encouraged him to write the letter after hearing about their conversations.
Hickenlooper told Newsline that “everyone in Colorado” knew Trump’s decision was political given that he lost in the state — but there was no direct evidence. The conversation Suthers had with Trump on a tarmac with Air Force generals alongside him was the evidence those advocating a Colorado Space Command needed.
“The great thing about what the President said to John Suthers, from our point of view, was it really did reveal that this was a political nature, that there was no military reason to move command down to Alabama,” Hickenlooper said. “It was strictly political. I think that goes a long way in kind of opening the door for a different decision.”
Reproductive health considerations
Bennet and Hickenlooper led a group of 36 senators this week in writing a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking him to consider access to reproductive health care when it comes to basing and personnel decisions across the military.
“It is unacceptable that service members or their dependents should face limited or no access to abortion care simply because of where they are stationed as part of their service to the United States,” the letter said. “State laws restricting or prohibiting our service members from accessing reproductive care send a message that the United States does not trust those who serve in uniform — whom we trust to protect our country — to make their own decisions about their health care and families.”
Bennet also penned an op-ed for CNN urging the president to consider the same when it comes to basing decisions. He noted that Alabama has “threatened doctors and nurses with up to 99 years in jail for performing an abortion.” Performing an abortion is a class A felony in Alabama.
A report from September 2022 found that about 80,000 women in the military are stationed in a state without access to non-covered reproductive health care such as abortions. A Republican U.S. senator from Alabama is also currently holding up Department of Defense nominations because of a policy announced in February that protects access for service members to non-covered reproductive health care.
Bennet said that while the Space Command basing decision is “a military readiness and national security issue,” access to reproductive care should always be considered in all major basing decisions.
“It would be outrageous if the administration moved Space Command from Colorado, a state where abortion is legal, to Alabama, a state where it is criminalized,” Bennet said.
Colorado’s future in space
Suthers said Colorado Springs would remain an “epicenter of space” regardless of where the headquarters lands. But he thinks pausing to move functional operations across the country threatens national security, and therefore leaving the “critical” and “prestigious” command in Colorado is in the national interest.
“I think the notion that we would endure any kind of disruption of our operational capabilities with a move to Huntsville is very much of concern, not to mention what the cost to the American taxpayer is,” Suthers said.
Bennet said moving Space Command isn’t a partisan issue, but one of national security that unites the entire Colorado congressional delegation, including five Democrats and three Republicans: “The delegation has been united in our concern that the Trump administration ran a flawed process, and united in our effort to make clear that for our national security, Space Command belongs in Colorado.”
I think the notion that we would endure any kind of disruption of our operational capabilities with a move to Huntsville is very much of concern, not to mention what the cost to the American taxpayer is.
– Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers
While there’s no clear timeline on when a decision will come, Lamborn, Hickenlooper and Bennet all said they will continue making the case for Colorado .
“For over two years, I’ve urged President Biden, the Department of Defense, and officials in the Administration to make a decision based on our national security, not politics,” Bennet said in an email. “I hope our message and the urgency of this situation is breaking through, and I’ll keep making the case every chance I get.”
Hickenlooper said he respects how military leaders are “independent, cautious and thoughtful” when making these kinds of decisions, and he’s happy to work at their pace while waiting for a decision.
“I think it’s a big part of the identity of Colorado that we are one of the national leaders in aerospace and in space defense, and that brand identity that we’ve created over many years has tremendous value — not just to our economy and all the jobs that are created, but on how Coloradans think about themselves and the pride they take in living in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said. “Those are important things for our school kids to have that pride and really say, ‘Hey, I live in Colorado.’”
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