Runners-up for Space Command headquarters claim politics swayed final decision

Redstone Arsenal was announced as the preferred site of the U.S. Space Command headquarters on Wednesday.

Posted: Jan 13, 2021 11:30 PM
Updated: Jan 14, 2021 11:25 AM

After wondering for about two years about where it would end up, the Air Force announced on Wednesday that Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville will be the home of the U.S. Space Command headquarters.

It's currently stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

People across the State of Alabama said they were elated by the news. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said his administration along with other local, regional, state and federal leaders were able to make a persuasive argument, based on things like cost of living, quality of life and the education system.

"They looked at the merits of each community and the merits are what should weigh out. The merits of this community are what won us the announcement today and what will make Space Force a success in the future," Battle said.

He argued another strength of Huntsville and Redstone was that they've successfully completed transitions of similar scale in the past.

"We have transferred the Army Aviation Command here. In 2005, we finished in 2011, we transferred the Materiel Command here. We've transferred commands here time and time again," Battle said. "And each time, our community has partnered with the sponsoring agency, just to make sure that they're a success."

But while politicians and community members celebrated in Huntsville, some in other states competing to house Space Command headquarters decried the process and the final result. 

"A decision so important to national security should be based on the merits that were identified by the Air Force and the Department of Defense going forward and not on politics as it appears to have been done," said Dirk Draper, the president of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Draper joined Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers in a press conference on Wednesday and argued that President Donald Trump put his thumb on the decision making scale, multiple times during the process.

He said the first time it happened was when the legislative delegation from Florida pushed for the evaluation process to reopen in the spring of 2020.

"Florida's delegation, which was not included in the evaluation process, successfully appealed to have that process reopened. And I'll pause for just a moment to note the President has close personal, business and political ties to the State of Florida, and reopened the process to include this second phase, which we've just now concluded," Draper said.

In the second phase, 60 cities expressed interest in courting the Space Command headquarters and it was quickly narrowed down to six finalists. 

At the end of both phases one and two, Draper said that Colorado Springs was the front-runner for the Air Force selection until the President stepped in.

"We also heard from sources inside the Air Force that Colorado Springs, in this second phase, was the number one ranked community for this location and that external pressure from the President was placed to award the permanent home of Space Command to a state, once again, to which the President has close political ties," Draper said. 

"If ever there was a trumped up decision, this feels like one."

Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn called the move a "horrendous decision" and said in a statement that "For the good our of nation, I will fight this proposed move. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate who I believe will be equally disturbed with this disruption to a critical national security mission."

When asked about the congressman's comments, Battle agreed that the decision shouldn't be a political one and didn't believe that factored into the Air Force's final decision.

"We would hope that no one would attempt to weigh politics into this decision. This decision needs to be on its merits. What is the best thing for the United States of America," Battle said. "The best thing for the United States of America is for U.S. Space Command to be located in a place where we do space. Where NASA has a facility, where the Missile Defense Agency has a facility, where Army Aviation is located."

On Wednesday evening, newly sworn in Senator Tommy Tuberville also weighed in on the Space Command announcement. He said that both the education system in north Alabama coupled with the amenities already located at Redstone made it an ideal choice.

He also said he believed that President Trump did have a hand in swaying the decision.

"You know, I've gotten to know President Trump quite well over the last eight months and there weren't many conversations we didn't have that Space Force didn't come up at one point, that we would be very excited about having it here. Now, I'm sure he had a small part in it, maybe even more than a small part. I don't know the ladder in which the approval goes through," Tuberville said.

"Just talking to the Secretary of the Air Force today, she had a lot to do with it. She had done her homework and she knows a lot about Huntsville. She talked to a lot of people. This wasn't just a snap decision or a quick decision, but I'm sure President Trump had something to do with it."

Both the Colorado delegation and Senator Martin Heinrich from New Mexico said on Wednesday that they have reached out to the Biden-Harris Transition and asked that once they come into office that they pause this process and fully review the methods used to determine the home of Space Command and how much President Trump influenced the outcome.

Right now, according to the Air Force, Redstone Arsenal is the "preferred location" for the headquarters. Next they need to complete the environmental impact analysis and expect to make their final decision in spring 2023. 

Officials noted that Redstone will provide a facility to support Space Command while a permanent facility is built. 

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