‘Betrayal’: Air Guardsmen, governors pile on criticism of plan to move units to Space Force

‘Betrayal’: Air Guardsmen, governors pile on criticism of plan to move units to Space Force

In the latest backlash against the Pentagon’s proposal to bypass governors and move space-focused units from the Air National Guard into the Space Force, guardsmen are speaking up—and saying they don’t want to join the service.

The legislative proposal is an “existential threat” to the Air National Guard and will open the door to a “wholesale harvesting” of Guard resources, said Col. Michael Griesbaum, the 168th Wing commander at the Alaska Air National Guard. Guardsmen have been performing space-focused missions for 20 years, and the proposal is a “betrayal” of their commitment, Griesbaum said. 

An internal survey found 70 percent of guardsmen would retrain or retire rather than join the Space Force, Griesbaum told reporters Friday. 

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has pushed back against criticism of the proposal, arguing the impact would be negligible, and that states don’t need military space forces.

But Guard members said it’s not about the space missions per se, but about maintaining the Guard construct. 

The proposal is an existential threat because “it’s across the entire National Guard, both Air and Army, that they can come in and take these units out of the National Guard, out from under gubernatorial authority,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Bruno, the director of joint staff for the Colorado National Guard.

Among the reasons a group of guardsmen listed for why they don’t want to move into the Space Force: family obligations, concern about staying close to their communities, and other uncertainties surrounding how they could work part-time in the Space Force. 

Staff Sgt. Robert Brown, a member of Colorado Air National Guard’s 233rd Space Group, said he doesn’t want to transfer because his family has put down roots in Colorado, and they need to stay close to orthopedic specialists for his son’s medical treatments. Before the Guard, Brown served 10 years in the active-duty Air Force.

“Unfortunately, being [on] active duty kept me away from my family a little too often, and it didn’t suit the goals I had for supporting my wife and son. But because I love this nation and this state, I wanted to continue my service through the Air National Guard, and I didn’t run the risk of getting stationed anywhere far from home,” Brown said. 

There’s also no clear path to progress their careers in the Space Force, said Staff Sgt. Kaiehu Kaupu-Hanks, with Hawaii’s 109th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron. Kaupu-Hanks originally joined the Guard to learn a technical trade and get his schooling paid for—but mostly because he wanted to stay home in Hawaii. 

Kaupu-Hanks said he has a chance of becoming the command chief of the Hawaii Air National Guard, but “switching over to the Space [Force] active duty, I’m uncertain of that, as well as how promotions would work, and even how order systems would work.”

The guardsmen don’t know how it will work for those with civilian jobs, and what it would mean to work part-time in the Space Force, said Capt. Bonn Franks, a member of Colorado ANG’s 138th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron. Franks also said he wants to stay in the Guard to help with state-side emergencies and disaster relief efforts. 

The number of people who would be affected is also a point of contention. Kendall has said it will only be a “few hundred people,” but the Guard says upwards of 1,000 could be impacted. 

The Pentagon is only including operators in their count, not a unit’s support personnel, Griesbaum said. And the department isn’t counting all the units that would be affected, Bruno said. 

Almost every governor opposes the move, according to a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently signed by 53 governors. 

And while Air Force officials argue this move is a one-off, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told reporters Monday it’s a “dangerous precedent” and a “major federalization” of the National Guard.

These space missions help with state emergencies, Polis said, pointing to the use of satellite-based resources to help with firefighting and natural disasters.

While governors can voice their opposition, Congress ultimately will decide the proposal’s fate. Last week, top House appropriators Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., signaled some concern over the proposal, and said the Air Force needs to work with states on a path forward. 

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