Signs greet personnel at the south entrance to Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, Colo., in July 2021.

Signs greet personnel at the south entrance to Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, Colo., in July 2021. (Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. military’s proposal to unilaterally move potentially hundreds of Colorado Air National Guard members involved in space operations to the Space Force is facing pushback from Gov. Jared Polis and most of the state’s congressional delegation.

The proposal, which would affect guard units in several states, is aimed at bolstering the newest military branch. In Colorado, that would mean moving members of the guard who fall under Polis’ authority into the federal military service.

But Polis, along with Democratic members of the state’s delegation, warns that such a transfer would undermine local authority and emergency readiness, while undercutting the will of members of the guard who didn’t sign up for that branch. Officials from many other states have protested, too.

The Air Force is seeking approval from Congress to explicitly waive a requirement that it obtain governors’ approval before transferring Air National Guard units to the Space Force.

The move, dubbed Legislative Proposal 480, was submitted by the Air Force to be included in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, the legislation that sets military policy. It is set to be considered by the House Armed Services Committee this week, though it still faces a monthslong journey — with looming debate and amendments in both chambers of Congress — before becoming law.

None of Colorado’s members of Congress who signed the letter sit on the House or Senate armed services committees. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who is retiring at the end of this term and did not sign the letter, does have a committee seat.

If the transfer of guard personnel were to take effect as proposed, all 393 members of the Colorado Air National Guard’s 233rd Space Group would need to either cross-train into a new specialty or be absorbed into the Space Force, according to Tech Sgt. Stephanie Zimmerman, a spokesperson for the guard. Their job duties include space operations; cyberspace; physician assistants; heating, ventilating and cooling specialists; emergency management; and more.

Colorado officials hope to strip the provision from the bill before it picks up any momentum.

A bipartisan letter signed by all of the Democrats in Colorado’s federal delegation and led by Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat and former Army Ranger, called it a “deeply flawed legislative proposal” that would “undermine our National Guard system.” Republicans from other states were among the signatories.

The letter goes on to note that guardsmen and women serve the dual roles of maintaining military readiness for national security while also being prepared to respond to domestic emergencies such as natural disasters, health emergencies and civil unrest.

“To be clear: when individuals sign up for the National Guard, they are serving their country and their community,” the letter states, emphasizing those last words. “Congress shouldn’t abandon this model.”

Polis joined a National Governors Association letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that was signed by most every other state and territorial governor in the country. He wrote a separate letter to Austin to oppose the legislation “in the strongest possible terms.”

“As (the Colorado Air National Guard’s) Commander-in-Chief, I cannot stand idly by as the servicemembers I am charged with leading are faced with the decision to either leave military service, or serve in a manner that they did not originally agree to,” Polis wrote. “We know that a significant majority of Air National Guard space operators will not transfer to the U.S. Space Force, putting both their military career and national security at risk.”

In a letter responding to concerns from the governors association, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall wrote that all units transferred to the Space Force under the proposal would remain in their current location.

He also said the intention was not to set a precedent for transferring other units out of the National Guard or to undermine the “critical role of governors.”

Rather, the move would help stand up the first new military service since the immediate aftermath of World War II. The Space Force already has taken over space missions previously performed by other branches of the military and now wants to integrate the space missions performed by the Air National Guard, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Denver Post.

“These missions — and the professionals who perform them — are essential to the unity of command and mission success of the U.S. Space Force,” Kendall wrote to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who chairs the National Governors Association. Polis is the association’s vice chair.

Colorado has played a prominent role as the military has established the Space Force. The U.S. Space Command is headquartered in Colorado Springs.

The Colorado Air National Guard is based at Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora, though it has personnel throughout the state.

The 233rd Space Group, based at the Greeley Air National Guard Station, offers the Air Force’s only mobile ground system for immediate detection of nuclear weapon launches, including from space. It’s designed to survive and operate through all phases and immediate fallout of a nuclear attack, according to a National Guard fact sheet.

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