For two and a half years, a decision on where to locate U.S. Space Command's headquarters has languished amid a tug of war between Alabama and Colorado, between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, and between red state and blue state politics.
But caught in the middle of the floor speeches, government investigations and heated discussion are military families. For them, there was one looming question: "Am I moving to Huntsville, Alabama, or staying put in Colorado Springs?"
On Monday, when Biden announced his decision to keep the headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado -- reversing a Trump-era announcement moving it to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville -- those service members, spouses and children finally got an answer. But some military families are worried the fight in Washington isn't over, and their future could still be upturned.
One military spouse who was previously stationed at Space Command said the political fallout from the basing decision this week is cause for concern, and still worries about families in Colorado Springs.
"It sounds like it is being permanently placed here in Colorado Springs, but we also have political pushes that are still saying it's not over. I don't know if the fight is over," said the spouse, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss a politicized issue. "I wish that our military members and families were not pulled into this."
In the days after the president's decision to keep Space Command in Colorado, Alabama's congressional delegation was preparing for another round in the years-long fight. Both Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Mike Rogers, the GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, appeared poised to double down on their efforts to pressure the military.
On Thursday, Rogers demanded Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Gen. James Dickinson, the commander of SPACECOM, provide documents and interviews related to the headquarters decision to the Armed Services Committee.
"Your refusal to abide by the committee's repeated requests for responsive documents and transcribed interviews can only be considered obfuscation and purposeful delay, highlighted by the fact that the basing decision was decided while the committee's requests are outstanding," Rogers wrote in a letter to the leaders.
"This is unacceptable," said Rogers, who has blocked Pentagon transfers of money this summer to cause financial pain and force the department to declare Alabama the command's home.
Tuberville has blocked the confirmations of the Army chief and the Marine Corps commandant, as well as the promotions of hundreds of military officers -- approvals that are typically routine and passed in bulk in the Senate -- over his opposition to a Pentagon policy providing leave for troops who need an abortion or other reproductive health care.
The Alabama Republican accused Biden of politicizing the Space Command HQ decision on Monday.
"Once again, Joe Biden is injecting politics into the military," Tuberville said in a statement. "This sets a dangerous precedent that military bases are to be used as rewards for political support rather than for national security."
Dickinson said in a statement that he supports Biden's decision and added that taking care of service members remains a top priority.
"I welcome this final basing decision," he said. "Our priorities to ensure mission success and care for our people remain unchanged."
Dickinson was scheduled to appear next week at the Space and Missile Defense System Conference in Huntsville, Alabama, but canceled at the last minute, according to Bob English, a spokesman for the event. Another officer from U.S. Space Command is taking his place.
Katherine Kuzminski, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank who researches military culture and family issues, told Military.com that Dickinson's comment is notable, especially in referencing "care for our people," adding that the basing decision does give clarity to Space Command service members and their families.
"You're trying to build a pipeline of individuals to have some predictability for military families," Kuzminski said. "It's good to know, it's good to just have a decision and stick by it."
Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee has estimated that Tuberville's hold has affected nearly 300 officers and, likely, their military families as well.
Sarah Streyder, the executive director of the Secure Families Initiative and the 2022 Armed Forces Insurance Space Force Spouse of the Year, told Military.com that if Tuberville decides to increase his efforts to pressure the Pentagon because of the Space Command basing decision, it could also affect military families more.
"The thing that these two things have in common is that they have nothing to do with the 300 families that he's put in limbo," Streyder said. "He's attacking the wrong people. He's holding the careers and the trajectories of 300 military families who have no control over these travel leave policies and who have no control over the location of Space Command Headquarters. And it makes me anxious, angry, all of the above."
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, praised the Biden administration's decision this week, which keeps 1,400 jobs and millions of dollars of defense money in his state, as an economic win. But he also mentioned it as a victory for military families, too.
"This is great news for Colorado and our national security -- keeping U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs is an exciting outcome for our state, military families, jobs, and businesses," Polis said in a statement.
Moving Space Command from Colorado, where abortion access is unrestricted, to Alabama, where it is illegal with limited exceptions, was also seen as a negative for service members assigned to the command. It has raised a red flag for some Colorado lawmakers who believe it will hurt troops' quality of life, as well as harm the military's retention efforts. The same concerns were brought up about anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across conservative-leaning states.
In June, the Air Force denied the concerns. It told Military.com that "reproductive health care and state laws regarding the LGBTQ+ community are not currently part of the criteria considered in the Department of the Air Force strategic basing process."
Cassandra Williamson, the executive director of the Alabama-based Transgender & Diverse Veterans of America Action Group, said in a statement regarding Space Command's decision that it appeared those state laws may have played a role in Biden choosing Colorado Springs.
"Our state leaders bargained away potentially billions in state revenue simply because they are beholden to an extreme far-right ideology that does not truly represent the vast majority of conservatives," Williams said.
Both the White House and Pentagon have denied politics played a role and said in a statement that the decision to keep the HQ in Colorado Springs was "to avoid any disruption to its operational capability."
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle was "deeply disappointed" by the Biden administration's reversal, according to AL.com, but was looking forward to collaborating with the military in the future.
"No matter where USSPACECOM resides, Huntsville will move forward and continue to be a good neighbor with our national military partners," Battle told AL.com. "We fully support our military and aerospace sectors and will work to ensure Huntsville remains a key component in furthering USSPACECOM's mission on the national and global stage."
But outside of the political debates and fights over military spending in Washington, D.C., Kuzminski told Military.com that most service members and their families just want to have a high quality of life, which could mean a good climate, school systems and economic opportunity. She added that, historically, Colorado has always been a more favored assignment than Alabama in the military.
"For military families, devoid of the political debates whatsoever, there's always a high demand for positions based in Colorado and a low demand for positions based in Alabama," Kuzminski said. "When we think about quality of life, it isn't just these heavily politicized issues; there are also just preferences that military families have."
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.