Amid the hue and cry over where U.S. Space Command will be permanently housed, one set of voices has been conspicuously absent: the troops who serve in the headquarters no matter where it calls home.
Members of the military are carefully taught to stay quiet about government decisions. America’s long history of civilian leadership over the military means those in uniform keep mum.
The association that represents most of those who serve the command, however, is now voicing a preference: keep it in Colorado Springs.
Matt Anderson, an Air Force colonel and spokesman for the yearold Space Force Association that serves as a voice for members of the nation’s newest service, said his organization is convinced the command should be kept here for military reasons alone.
But the association’s members have plenty of personal reasons to want it to stay put, too.
“Without a doubt, the quality of life here in Colorado Springs matters,” Anderson explained. “You can’t put a price on it.”
The association spoke out ahead of the Wednesday meeting of a team of evaluators from the Pentagon who will judge Colorado Springs against five other cities that are finalists for the command. Omaha, Neb., Albuquerque, San Antonio, Melbourne, Fla., and Huntsville Ala., are fighting hard to win the command, which comes with 1,400 troops, thousands of civilian employees and contractors and billions of dollars in federal contracts in future years.
The evaluators were supposed to fly to Colorado Springs, but the meeting was moved online by coronavirus issues.
The evaluators will be grading Colorado Springs on a set of criteria laid out last summer. Forty percent of the score will be based on mission-related essentials including whether a community provides easy access to other space units and whether it has a workforce that can support the command, which oversees military missions in orbit. An additional 30 percent will be based on whether a community has the infrastructure the command will need, from space at a military base to reliable utilities and adequate roads to handle the command’s commute.
Colorado Springs, now the command’s provisional home, is expected to top the charts in those two categories and also win out in another category worth 15% of the grade: How much it would cost the government to house the command.
It could cost billions to move it elsewhere, said retired Maj. Gen. Wes Clark, one of the officers who was in Colorado Springs when the space industry dawned in the 1960s and who has watched as the military built a complex system for defending America’s military satellites here.
It started a half-mile under Cheyenne Mountain in the Air Force’s nuclear-proof bunker, Clark said.
“We started keeping track of all the satellites in space at that time,” he said.
There were no fancy computer programs to ease the work. “We just ran through reams and reams of paper,” he said.
For the last 15% of the grade, based on community support, the Space Force Association thinks the Pikes Peak region gets top marks there, too.
“You recruit the individual, but you retain the family,” Anderson said, pointing to family concerns as a top factor that decides how long troops remain in uniform. “And Colorado Springs has so much to offer the families.”
Still, local leaders are leaving nothing to chance amid a process to house the command that has stopped and restarted amid political pressure and the personal intervention of President Donald Trump. Since the command was brought back in 2018, the competition to house its headquarters has brought plenty of intrigue.
Colorado Springs was once one of four finalists for the headquarters before heavy lobbying from congressional delegations, most notably lawmakers from Florida, drove the Pentagon to reopen the contest.
In the weeks before the competition was reopened, Trump pledged to personally pick the winner during a campaign stop in Colorado Springs.
“I will be making a big decision on the future of the Space Force as to where it is going to be located, and I know you want it,” Trump told a crowd gathered at the Broadmoor World Arena. “I will be making a decision by the end of the year.”
The Air Force in May announced it would reopen the contest and run it without political considerations. Colorado Springs was again named a finalist amid a broader competition that drew bids from cities in 26 states.
Even leaders up the road in Aurora, which lost out on its bid for the command, are backing Colorado Springs.
“It does belong here in Colorado,” said Aurora Democratic U.S. Rep Jason Crow. “There’s a consensus among the delegation about that fact; we have long said that it should be in Colorado, first and foremost.”
Still, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers fears that politics could mar a process his city seems poised to win.
“Politics can always rear its ugly head,” Suthers said. “I am pretty certain the Air Force wants to avoid that, and I feel good about that.”
And politics are also changing these days, with a new Democratic administration set to take over the Pentagon in January, which could reset the process, local leaders say.
Military space operations have always called Colorado Springs home, and dating to its original founding in 1985, U.S. Space Command has always been based here. But the military‘s visions for space were put on hold in 2002 as the nation battled through the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The original U.S. Space Command was shuttered for 17 years until growing rivalries in orbit with Russia and China showed Congress the necessity for a headquarters that would take charge if a future war expands beyond the gravity of Earth.
America must defend its military satellites these days because troops on air, land and sea are so reliant on what the Pentagon has in orbit. Navigation signals are beamed down from space as satellite communication links the president and the Pentagon to the battlefield. Drones are flown via satellite and the munitions that make American troops so deadly won’t work without satellite guidance for targeting.
Losing a war in space would precede defeat on the planet below.
“The Space Force in general is about the future — it is about us looking to the future and us fighting the next war,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen Jay Silveria, who helped direct America’s war against the Islamic State before he served as the Air Force Academy’s superintendent. “There’s only conflict now. It is not just conflict in space or conflict on the planet.”
Silveria, who retired in September after 35 years in uniform, said he supports Colorado Springs in its bid to keep the command because leaving the headquarters in the shadow of Pikes Peak will better allow leaders to focus on preventing wars that could reach orbit.
Because Colorado Springs provides unmatched support to military families, Silveria said, “then commanders don’t need to worry about that and they can focus on the mission.
“In places where there is not community support, commanders can be distracted,” he said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said he has focused on caring for families to improve the state’s bid for the command.
The state General Assembly eased licensing rules for military family members, making Colorado the easiest place for military spouses, in careers from nursing to boxing, to move.
“We know all of those are factors, above and beyond some of the readiness issues, where we think we really shine,” Polis said.
Polis also said his 2021 budget proposal, which provides more money for colleges, will also support the command by nurturing aerospace education programs across the Front Range that will bring it the future workers it needs.
“We have really marquee aerospace programs across our system,” he said.
Terrance McWilliams, who served as Fort Carson’s top enlisted soldier before retiring in 2007 and now oversees military programs for the El Pomar Foundation, said the generosity of the Pikes Peak region also stands out.
“You know, we embrace the military’s presence here in the region,” he said. “And from a nonprofit perspective, we want to be supportive of meeting those unfunded needs.”
The region has dozens of military-aimed charities that range from caring for wounded troops to providing emergency cash to soldiers and veterans who can’t meet their bills.
The El Pomar Foundation has pledged its full support to the effort to keep Space Command in Colorado Springs, as has the Denver-based Daniels Fund and The Anschutz Foundation. “Assisting those who protect our nation continues to be a high priority for our grant-making,” Hank Brown, president of the Daniels Fund, and James Nicholson, chairman of the board, wrote in a letter to Mayor Suthers.
The Anschutz Foundation also has contributed a lead gift of $3.5 million to help open an astronautical engineering school at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“CU is moving towards adding an astronautical engineering degree to support Space Command’s talent needs,” said Mark Kennedy, president of the University of Colorado. “Strong philanthropic partners have helped CU and other universities to expand support for space. Contributions from the Anschutz, El Pomar and Lane foundations supported UCCS’ cybersecurity expansion. With the support and encouragement of The Anschutz Foundation, we plan to expand UCCS’ engineering building, allowing us to educate more engineers.”
Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rich Parsons said Colorado Springs can also boast a vibrant economy beyond the military.
“Since retiring and starting a business here, my wife and I have looked at relocating,” said Parsons, a business consultant. “But what really stood out to me for staying here is the military community, the veterans services and the growth opportunities that abound.”
That’s especially true in aerospace, with space startups flocking to Colorado Springs, driven in part by the Catalyst Campus incubator that has drawn space entrepreneurs from across the country here.
“We just are space,” Parsons said of the town.
Most of the Pentagon’s judging criteria solely focus on military matters.
There, Colorado Springs should be a clear winner, said Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Denver. Bennet said the state is the nation’s hub for military space missions from the Global Positioning System to the space-derived information he has seen as a member of his chamber’s Intelligence Committee.
He said Colorado not only has the units Space Command will lean on, it also has the industrial base and educational institutions it will need in the future.
“That only makes me believe it is more imperative for this mission to stay in Colorado,” he said.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Wayne Williams said the Pikes Peak region is also working to provide the command with reliable infrastructure, from electricity that isn’t interrupted by storms to roads that will accommodate its troops during the morning commute.
“We are advocating for what I believe is the correct choice,” Williams said. “I believe we have the facts and background on our side.”
But the Pentagon evaluators don’t want a long sales pitch. They have set aside about an hour for local leaders to make their case, said Reggie Ash, who oversees defense programs for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC.
“I don’t think there is anything that we would want to hide in this community,” he said. “We have the opposite problem — that there are so many things we want to show them that we have a hard time prioritizing in the amount of time we have been given.”
Suthers said he will have a few specific points to bring to the Pentagon’s attention. That includes how his city can match the incentives other communities are offering to lure the command.
In past years, the Pentagon has shunned incentives in basing decisions. But, for the first time with Space Command, the Air Force authorized communities to offer gifts in exchange for the command. Communities have come up with free land, cash for building and more.
Suthers say Colorado Springs is not unarmed in that battle. From lower utility rates to tax breaks for building contractors, the mayor is packing a list of offerings.
Space Command is based now at Peterson Air Force Base, and has operations at Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Peterson has open land on its eastern edge, and ways that can be used to help the base are part of talks, Suthers said.
“I think we can make an incredibly compelling case,” said Suthers, a former Colorado attorney general who is used to making succinct arguments before panels of judges. “Here’s why it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States and the taxpayers of the United States.”
Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said he’s also making sure the brief encounter with the Pentagon’s evaluators won’t be the last argument the Pikes Peak region will make to win the command.
“I am going to continue pressing the advantages we have and impressing them on everyone in the decision chain when I get a chance,” Lamborn said.
One of the top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, Lamborn said moving the command, which is operating here, just doesn’t make sense.
The education system and the community supports it in Colorado Springs, he said. The Pentagon has invested money here for decades to make sure the command can be successful.
All that comes with mountain views in a place where people from the other candidate cities flock to during their vacations.
Staying in Colorado Springs will make its troops more deadly in war and its families happier with life in the military, Lamborn said.
“I know it is the right decision,” he said.
This content was originally published here.