The Colorado House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Friday that lays the legal framework for the state to establish the Colorado Space National Guard. But before any Coloradans head to the recruiting station, they should know there’s a catch — the U.S. Congress has to authorize a Space National Guard first.
The new state legislation will allow “[Colorado’s] Air National Guard space units to transition to the Space National Guard once the federal government establishes the Space National Guard,” according to its summary. The bill also updates all state laws referencing the branches of the armed forces — such as employment protection laws — to include the active-duty Space Force as well.
Colorado is a longtime hub of military space operations, including the temporary home of U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base. The state also hosts space-focused troops at Schriever Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Buckley Air Force Base, and the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command.
The bill, which is currently under consideration in the state Senate, is written so that the Space National Guard portions only take effect “if the federal government creates the Space National Guard in the ‘FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.’”
Greg Dorman, legislative director for the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, notes that the “Colorado National Guard was home to the first Air Guard and Army Guard space units.”
“We expect a seamless transition and House Bill 21-1231 is a proactive way to ensure that we are prepared as a state to support that effort,” Dorman said in an email to Military Times Tuesday. “Colorado National Guard space units and the over 300 National Guard space operators that make up those units will reorganize within existing resources with no interruption of readiness.”
Where does the Space National Guard stand in Congress?
It’s not clear when — or if — Congress will establish the Space National Guard, though.
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited the Defense Department from establishing any reserve components of the Space Force until DoD submits a draft plan to the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
A Pentagon spokesman told Military Times on Tuesday that report, due March 31, is still in progress. Until the Space Force reserve component study is presented to Congress and details emerge about the FY 2022 NDAA, the Space Guard remains in limbo.
The Colorado National Guard has participated in preparing the report, said Dorman. Florida and New York are also in the working group, he added.
As Colorado moves toward proactively green-lighting the introduction of a Space National Guard in the state, the federal effort could find a proponent in the state’s former adjutant general.
Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, director of the Air National Guard, has publicly backed the creation of a space counterpart and now holds a pivotal seat from which to advocate for it.
“I don’t see how we have a Space Force without a Space Guard,” Loh, then a major general and adjutant general for the Colorado National Guard, said last year.
Other senior Guard officials, such as Florida National Guard adjutant general Air Force Maj. Gen. James Eifert, have advocated for a Space Guard as well. Eifert argued in a July 2020 Military Times op-ed that “We are the perfect partner for the newly formed United States Space Force.”
The National Guard Bureau is staffing up, too: Air Force Maj. Gen. Gregory White — also from the Colorado National Guard — became the Guard’s first director of space operations last May. He’ll oversee the transition of Guardsmen and resources to the Space Force as the service explores its options for a reserve component.
In addition to the Guard’s public push, Space Force officials have indicated their interest in establishing a Space Guard. They argue a federal reserve component could allow for easier transitions between active and reserve duty, and allow the service to continue benefiting from the Guardsmen already performing those missions.
About 1,500 space personnel serve in the Air and Army National Guards, most of whom work for the Air Force. Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Ohio and Guam already have National Guard space units that deploy overseas in support of combat operations, fly Milstar communications satellites, and handle other related missions like space electronic warfare.
Military officials have suggested that, if Congress allows for a Space Guard, not every U.S. state and territory would need one.
“Establishing a Space National Guard to sustainably support the USSF is one of my top priorities,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, then-chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last year. “We continue to make the case.”
This article has been updated to correct Maj. Gen. Gregory White’s branch of service.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.