Air Guardsmen Explain Why They Don’t Want to Switch to the Space Force

Air National Guardsmen called a proposal to transfer their units into the Space Force an “existential threat” to the Guard and dangerous for national security in the latest volley of criticism of an idea that Department of the Air Force leaders are pushing Congress to adopt. 

In a media call featuring 10 Guardsmen involved in space missions, troops cited their families’ needs, personal connections to their communities, and uncertainties about how the Space Force will administer a combined full-time/part-time component as reasons they don’t want to make the switch. 

Should the proposal championed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall go through, the Guardsmen warned, many of them and their colleagues would change jobs to stay in the Guard rather than make the switch—creating critical vacancies that would take the Space Force years to fill. 

One internal survey, sent to all 14 ANG units in seven states that perform space missions, found that 70 percent of respondents would retrain or retire rather than join the Space Force, according to the Guard.

Kendall has said he is not concerned about such surveys, arguing that respondents did not have all the information they need to understand the change. 

“I think when you go to people and say ‘Do you want to stay like you are or jump off a cliff?’ They’re going to stay like they are,” Kendall said. “We’re not asking them to jump off a cliff. We’re asking them to go to another arrangement which will be very, very like the one that they’re currently serving under. They’re not going to see much change frankly, as I see it.” 

But multiple Guardsmen said they have specific reasons for wanting to stay in the Guard. 

“I love staying home in Hawaii,” said 1st Lt. Mao Lefiti of the 150th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron. “I love all the people that I work with. The institutional knowledge that the Guard provides, it’s just such a wealth, huge amounts of information and knowledge that gets passed on. So I love being here. I don’t want to leave and just the uncertainty and the ability to possibly be switched, because we are an operational squadron, I’m kind of in a tactical role, and the uncertainty of that I may be moved to who knows where is cause for concern.” 

Staff Sgt. Robert Brown of the Colorado Air National Guard’s 233rd Space Group, said he met his wife, got married, and had his first child while on Active duty. His family put down roots in the community, and they wanted to stay close to medical specialists for his son. 

“But because I love this nation and I love 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. “Currently, my wife and I are expecting a daughter in just about a month. So that really enforces our need to stay.” 

Capt. Bonn Franks of the Colorado ANG’s 138th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron said part of the reason he serves in the Guard is to assist with state missions like humanitarian relief and disaster response. 

“I was on Active duty in the early 2010s, and there was a pretty significant fire in Colorado Springs, and on Active duty, we were doing a lot of makeshift firefighter training so that we could go help,” Franks said. “But the red tape process for us to be able to go help the firefighters with that natural disaster ended up being too much. And so we went through all this training and weren’t able to do I mean, really anything for a very devastating fire.” 

And while the Space Force has been granted new authorities to manage part-time and full-time Guardians in one components, Staff Sgt. Kaiehu Kaupu-Hanks of Hawaii’s 109th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron said he feared he would have fewer opportunities in the Space Force. 

“Within the Hawaii Air National Guard, I have a clear career progression toward getting a chance at becoming command chief of the whole Hawaii Air National Guard,” Kaupu-Hanks said. “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.” 

Should space-focused Guardsmen leave rather than make the switch, Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman has said he is confident the service can minimize the risk associated with the transition and attract new talent. But Guard officials argued losing their expertise would have more of an effect. 

“The duties that our space professionals are performing are highly complex,” Col. Daniel Wrazien, director of staff for the Hawaii Air National Guard, said. “It takes about a year and a half to two years to train a space professional. And that’s not something you can just do overnight.”

Beyond the practical changes, officials also argued that the Department of the Air Force would create a dangerous precedent by removing units from the Guard without the approval of those states’ governors. It is an argument that 53 governors of states and territories made in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. 

“Nothing legislatively ever happens once,” said Col. Michael S. Griesbaum, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing. “If [the proposal] is successful, it will open the door to a wholesale harvesting of National Guard resources both from the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard to the regular components.” 

Ultimately, advocates say, Congress should create a separate Space National Guard to ensure their units are connected to the Space Force while retaining the unique advantages of the Guard structure. 

“I still think a Space National Guard is the right answer,” Brig. Gen. Michael Bruno, director of joint staff for the Colorado National Guard, said. “But my concern today is [the legislative proposal] because existentially, it’s across the entire National Guard, both Air and Army, that they can then come in and take these units out of the National Guard out from under gubernatorial authority.” 

The fierce criticism of the proposal appears to be reaching Capitol Hill as well—Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) both expressed skepticism about the idea this week during hearings. Calvert and McCollum are the chair and ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee. 

“My recommendation to the Air Force is I think they need to work with the states on a reasonable way ahead, because obviously, this is not going to fly,” Calvert said.