San Antonio mayor to discuss Space Force, military medicine in Pentagon visit

Mayor Ron Nurenberg will spend Thursday in Washington talking with top Pentagon officials about bolstering the military’s many medical assets here, as well as the city’s hope to serve as the new home of U.S. Space Command.



Ron Nirenberg et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg attends the basic military training graduation of 526 airmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in 2017.


© Bob Owen /San Antonio Express-News

Mayor-elect Ron Nirenberg attends the basic military training graduation of 526 airmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in 2017.


He’ll meet with the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., as well as Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force’s chief of space operations, and the head of the Defense Health Agency, Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place.

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The goal: Convince those leaders that San Antonio, “Military City, U.S.A.,” is ready to host Space Command, support other new Air Force operations here and help expand military medicine missions.

“I wanted them to know San Antonio is going to show up, even when the world’s on pause,” Nirenberg said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike the annual SA to DC lobbying trip to Washington, this one will be a small affair, with Nirenberg bringing only two others with him. Nirenberg called this trip a “precision exercise.”

“If SA to DC is sending in the cavalry, this trip is the air strike,” he said.

In setting up the meetings, Pentagon officials asked that the mayor keep the group to just three people because they were to meet with major decision-makers. The others with him retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president/CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

The big-ticket items on the agenda include Space Command and the Defense Health Agency, but there will be other stops. Nirenberg will talk with the undersecretary of the Army, and the Department of Defense’s office for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support to Civil Authorities.

The mayor’s office said Nirenberg will have specific “asks” or points of information for ongoing or future initiatives from the city or local military community that add value to Joint Base San Antonio, the largest joint base in the Department of Defense. The trip will encourage senior Pentagon leaders to consider keeping San Antonio at the top of their list to either relocate missions or activate new ones.

San Antonio made it through the initial cut as the Air Force seeks a permanent headquarters for the Space Command, now based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Governors from 26 states nominated 100 cities to be the command’s new home.

It was established as the 11th combat command in August 2019 and the Air Force is now in the evaluation phase of a selection process that aims to pick finalists in mid-to late-November. A decision is expected in January, and the new headquarters will take about six years to put in place.

Nirenberg has said San Antonio is a natural fit for Space Command because of its quality of life, a skilled work force that includes military personnel transitioning to civilian life, a large veterans community, and specialists who work in space-related fields.

The Defense Health Agency last year assumed oversight of military medicine across the country. In ordering its creation, Congress hoped to reduce the heavy military medical footprint across the country by moving patients to private care.

The possibilities of large cuts in uniformed personnel and a shift to private providers have loomed over budget plans that would shape the newly expanded agency. But a general here said the size of the San Antonio operations makes the city less likely to feel changes that will transform the system elsewhere.

Patients will have the same military health care benefits and are unlikely to notice the difference at Brooke Army Medical Center or Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, nor will civilian trauma patients in BAMC’s emergency room see any change, said Air Force Maj. Gen. John DeGoes last year. A physician, he commands the 59th Medical Wing and director of the San Antonio Military Health System, largest in the nation.

Nirenberg said he’s visited the Pentagon a couple of times, “but we’ve never experienced it when the world is standing still.”

“That’s what’s different, is that this is an opportunity for us to underscore in extraordinary ways how seriously we take our involvement in the missions and our national defense

Sig Christenson covers the military and its impact in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Sig, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @saddamscribe

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