Air Force Proposes Bypassing Governors in 7 States to Move Guard Units into Space Force

by Braxton Taylor

Air Force officials have submitted a legislative proposal to Congress that would sidestep governors in seven states and move Air National Guard units with space missions into the Space Force, angering National Guard supporters.

The National Guard Association of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization that goes by NGAUS, said in a statement to Military.com that draft legislation approved March 15 by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall seeks to “bypass the long-standing requirement in federal law for the Pentagon to obtain a governor’s consent before transferring a National Guard unit to another branch of the military.”

Any proposed legislation would ultimately need to be approved by Congress. The Air Force did not directly comment on the proposal prior to publication. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 Air National Guardsmen across 14 units operating space-related missions in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Ohio, according to the association.

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The draft legislative proposal submitted to Congress, which was reviewed by Military.com, is titled “Transfer To The Space Force of covered space functions of the Air National Guard of the United States” would “change the status of the unit from a unit of the Air National Guard of the United States to a unit of the United States Space Force; deactivate the unit; or assign the unit a new Federal mission,” the text reads.

National Guard Association officials said the new proposal was submitted to Congress with the hopes of it being included in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, which will be crafted by the House and Senate in the coming months. The proposal seeks to waive section 104 of Title 32, as well as section 18238 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

Those laws state, respectively, that “no change in the branch, organization or allotment of a unit located entirely within a state may be made without the approval of its governor” and that National Guard units may “not be relocated or withdrawn under this chapter without the consent of the governor of the state.”

“This proposal completely ignores the fact that these people took an oath to serve in that state under that governor until mobilized into federal service,” retired Maj. Gen. Francis McGinn, NGAUS president, told Military.com in an interview Wednesday. “It bypasses the [say] of the governors. To me, that’s pretty telling what they’re trying to do.”

Since the creation of the Space Force in 2019, National Guard Association lobbyists and Department of the Air Force officials have been at odds on what to do with the part-time Air National Guardsmen who have performed space missions for nearly three decades.

State governors and National Guard Association officials have advocated for the creation of a Space National Guard. Officials with the Department of the Air Force, which includes the Space Force, and the White House have argued against it. They want to include those Air National Guardsmen in the Space Force’s new part-time active-duty service model, which was approved in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis publicized a letter he wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin criticizing the proposed Air Force plan.

“I will continue to oppose any involuntary removals of Colorado Air National Guard space units and personnel as well as any reductions to the Colorado National Guard’s force structure,” Polis wrote. “This direct override of gubernatorial authority to exercise control over the units that are permanently based or removed from their respective states flies in the face of over 120 years of military tradition, organizational structure and efficacy, and precedent.”

Department of the Air Force officials as well as a spokesman for Kendall did not provide a statement on the proposal or the Guard association’s position by publication time.

In December, the new Space Force Personnel Management Act was passed as part of the annual defense policy bill, and it offered active-duty Guardians and Air Force reservists, not Air National Guardsmen, working on space-related missions the option to serve either full time or part time.

Military.com reported last week that Gen. Chance Saltzman, the chief of space operations for the Space Force, told Guardians in a memo that he hopes to start transferring over full-time reservists as soon as this summer but noted the “sheer amount of work” still required for the part-time service model.

Maj. Tanya Downsworth, a Department of the Air Force spokesperson, told Military.com on Wednesday that the Space Force Personnel Management Act does not cover the issue of Air National Guard space units.

“The Space Force Personnel Management Act will allow us to integrate active-duty Guardians and Air Force reservists in space-related career fields; the Air National Guard is not included in the SFPMA,” Downsworth said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

The issue of what will be done with the Air National Guard space units was not addressed in that legislation. But within the 2024 defense authorization act, Congress asked the Pentagon to finish a report by Feb.1, 2025, that will “assess the feasibility and advisability of moving all units, personnel billets, equipment and resources performing core space functions” in the Air National Guard to the “operational control of the Space Force.”

Meanwhile, NGAUS officials have estimated that creating a Space National Guard would cost only $250,000, saying it would be as simple as replacing uniform tapes, unit flags and base signage.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a 2021 statement that it opposed efforts to create a new Space National Guard component, estimating it would increase costs each year by up to $500 million.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Space National Guard Establishment Act of 2024 in late January — an effort he has pushed for the last two years.

It currently has 13 bipartisan co-sponsors and NGAUS said it “picked up two co-sponsors within the last month.”

National Guard Association officials say the prospect of moving those state units into the Space Force would be costly and unpopular with the rank and file. In a poll of Air National Guardsmen performing the space mission in those seven states, many wished to stay put, McGinn told Military.com.

“Guardsmen usually stay put,” McGinn said. “So, they don’t want to uproot. They don’t want to leave; they don’t want to leave their families. There’s a reason they joined the Guard.”

Related: Space Force’s Leader Warns of ‘Sheer Amount of Work’ Needed to Start New Part-Time Service Model

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