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Local civic leaders see Colorado military ops

by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Photo by Dennis Plummer

Thirty-five Bay area civic leaders covered a lot of territory this week, geographically and within the realm of information, taking a tour led by Brig. Gen. Tanker Snyder, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Lawrence, 6th AMW command chief, to Colorado Springs, Colo.

From being briefed on homeland security decisions that might mean shooting down a hijacked airliner to the sensitive issues of sexual harassment at the U.S. Air Force Academy, area leaders listened, learned and asked plenty of questions during the tour Tuesday and Wednesday.

Civic leaders, which included top educators, city leaders and business owners flew in from MacDill aboard a KC-135 and were met at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., by Army Lt. Gen. Joe Inge, Northern Command deputy commander. The civic leaders were given briefs about NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command's mission.

NORTHCOM was established in 2002 to provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts and to coordinate military support to civil authorities. The command is composed of Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard. Additionally, NORAD, which is in charge of the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America, is a bi-national command of which 33 percent of the personnel are Canadian military members. NORAD's area of responsibility includes the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles.

One of the most important decisions made by senior leadership at NORTHCOM is the order to shoot down a civilian aircraft in the case of a hijacking situation. General Inge, one of the leaders that has the ability to make that decision, said the two main clues that alert a hijacking situation are when a plane is significantly off course of its flight plan and when the plane does not communicate with the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I say a prayer every day that I never have to make that call (to shoot down a civilian aircraft)," he said.

General Inge said that before Sept. 11, 2001, all of the U.S. efforts were focused on aircraft coming into the U.S., as all domestic traffic was considered to be friendly. The biggest shift has been to not only focus on what is coming into the U.S., but what is already in the U.S., such as the hijacked planes used Sept. 11, 2001.

Adm. Timothy Keating, NORTHCOM commander, also discussed the command's mission and emphasized how important community support is to the DoD.

After visiting NORTHCOM and NORAD, the civic leaders traveled to Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, also located in Colorado Springs and the main operations center for NORAD, NORTHCOM and U.S. Strategic Command. The CMOC is located 8,000 feet above sea level and 2,000 feet inside a mountain.

The first blast for excavation of the center occurred in 1961, said Army Maj. David Patterson, CMOC public affairs director. The government wanted an underground, hardened facility to stand up the primary aerospace warning system. The location was chosen because it was centrally located in North America for interceptors, there was no seismic activity and there was an established military infrastructure in place in Colorado Springs.

Today NORAD is responsible for man-made objects in space, and the direction, validation and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles, utilizing mutual support arrangements with other commands. This mission is incredibly important and ensured through design and planing that would allow the entire center to be sealed up and be self sustaining for hundreds of days.

First, 18 to 25-ton blast doors shut and protect the entire center from any type of attack, including nuclear. The three and a half foot thick doors close in 30 seconds with a manual override if needed. The center is built on a spring system which can move one foot in any direction in the case the mountain is shaken by a blast. The center is equipped with six generators which provide enough power to power more than 1,000 homes. There are four water reservoirs, containing 1.5 million gallons. Additionally, the center also includes a barber shop, convenience store, medical and dental facility, dining facility, fitness center, basketball courts, a fire department and meals ready to eat, in the case of a long lock-down period.

The last time the doors were locked was on Sept. 11, 2001, when the center received credible information that a plane was headed in its direction, he said. The blast-proof doors remained closed for about three and a half hours.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the center has been very busy, making sure to run exercises every day of the year, to ensure readiness and accuracy, he said.

"We see every single missile launch anywhere in the world," said Major Patterson. "Our job is to warn. If we haven't heard from a theater commander 30 seconds after a missile launch, we will call him to warn him."

Beside missile warnings, the Space Control Center is equally busy watching and waiting to warn the appropriate personnel. The center, which detects, tracks, identifies and catalogs man-made objects in space, has detected 28,000 objects. Currently it is tracking 8,500 objects, he said.

Lastly, the civic leaders toured the U.S. Air Force Academy, also located in Colorado Springs. Col. Jeff Kendall, 306th Flight Training Squadron commander, explained that USAFA has 4,000 students, an enrollment size comparable to other military service academies. Twenty percent of the students are female and students have 30 academic majors to choose from.

All academy graduates have a five-year commitment to the military unless the graduates received a pilot slot, in which they incur a 10-year commitment after graduating pilot school. About 530 students out of 950 receive pilot slots after commissioning.

After watching some free fallers, the civic leaders received a brief from Lt. Gen. John Rosa, USAFA superintendent, who started the brief by confronting the sexual harassment issue.

"We had a culture problem here where people didn't respect each other," said General Rosa. "We recognized there was a problem and have dealt with it but there is a lot more work to be done. We need help shaping young people from society and communities."

General Rosa discussed several issues confronting today's academy graduates. The civic leaders were able to talk to cadets about these issues during lunch at Mitchell Hall.

After lunch the civic leaders boarded a KC-135 and flew back to MacDill, refueling an RC-135. Civic leaders were able to talk to pilots, Capt. Jason Willis and 1st Lt. Elton Moseng, boom operators Staff Sgt. Dave Tickle and Airman 1st Class John Haas, crew chiefs Staff Sgt. Andrew Buller and Staff Sgt. Orbie Butler, and flight attendant Staff Sgt. Angela Whitman about their career fields and aspirations.

 

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