With a new defense secretary on the job, Colorado politicians are bombarding the Pentagon with pleas to keep the new U.S. Space Command here.
Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is the latest, a few days behind Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and the El Paso Board of County Commissioners. The new push is aimed at Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who took the Pentagon's top job last month, after it had been left vacant since the December departure of James Mattis.
The delay in getting a new Pentagon boss also slowed the selection of a permanent home for the new command, which is charged with defending America's military satellites, gathering intelligence on satellites and other space capabilities from rival nations, and going on the offensive if war breaks out in orbit.
It's crunch time for politicians, because the Pentagon could pick a home for the command as soon as September.
"Today, Colorado continues to possess the trained military personnel, and technical expertise necessary to assume the additional responsibilities associated with a unified combatant command for space as well the space-related responsibilities currently assigned to United States Strategic Command," Gardner wrote to Esper.
The new command already is being established at a temporary home at Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases in Colorado Springs. It is expected to kick off operations in a few weeks, Air Force sources have said.
But finding a permanent home for the command an its 1,400 troops remains up in the air.
Colorado is vying with Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.
Leaders in Colorado say they fear Alabama the most.
While Colorado has the facilities and the people in place to house the command and carry out its mission, Alabama packs a political punch.
With Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby heading the Senate's all-powerful Appropriations Committee, Alabama can easily twist arms at the Pentagon.
Colorado, however, has a strong argument that leaders hope can overpower Shelby: For all intents and purposes, Space Command is already here and possession is nine-tenths of the law.
"Colorado has the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy and is home to the nation’s second-most highly educated workforce," Primavera wrote in a letter to the Pentagon. "Colorado hosts the nation’s largest concentration of military space assets, including three of five active space wings, the Army’s only space brigade, 85 percent of the Army National Guard space assets, and the largest, oldest Air National Guard Space group."
The push to keep the command in Colorado is nothing new. Politicians here started trying to persuade the brass last fall, shortly after lawmakers passed a bill creating the new command. It's an effort that Colorado Springs leaders say they will continue until the military decides the command's permanent home.
"The strong presence of the United States Armed Forces in our community has ingrained a deep reverence for the military and has greatly enhanced our civic pride, culture, and vitality," El Paso County commissioners said in a plea to the Pentagon last month.