April 20, 2016 – Since April 20, 1966, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado has been protecting the skies over North America. Both the Governor of Colorado and the U.S. Senate proclaimed April 20 Cheyenne Mountain Day to commemorate the pivotal role Cheyenne Mountain plays to the defense of the United States, Canada, and its allies.
The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and falls under Air Force Space Command. This $18 billion engineering marvel is managed by the 21st Space Wing and is home to the 721st. Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station has the primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating it through the Missile Warning Center to NORAD. U.S. Northern Command, USSTRATCOM, and national leadership through the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. It also serves as the alternate command center for NORAD and USNORTHCOM.
Excavation for the massive 5,1 acre underground infrastructure began in 1961, and it reached full operational capability April 20, 1966. During construction, 693,000 tons of granite were removed from the site, and replaced with 12 three-story and 3 two-story buildings located behind two 25-ton doors designed to withstand the force of a nuclear blast. The construction included mission centers, offices, personnel support, and survivability capabilities such as water retention ponds, nuclear, biological and chemical air scrubbers, and power generation.
A rededication ceremony marking 50 years being a fully operational facility took place April 15, 2016 at CMAFS. Among the dignitaries attending the event were General John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Colorado Sen. Corey Gardner.
Hyten, who served as mission director at CMAFS 1994-96, said there is no feeling like walking into the mountain every day to protect the nation.
“The Mountain may have changed, but the pride, passion, and dedication (of those who serve there) has not,” Hyten said.
He called the mountain men and women who served at the facility, American heroes who took part in making history, protecting the country during a critical time.
“It’s not just a story of technology, but (it’s) a human story,” said Hyten. He shared the stories of two veterans who were stationed at CMAFS when it became fully operational, retired Master Sgt. Robert Thibeaux and retired Staff Sgt. Bill Bunker. Thibeaux was on duty in the command center when the Mountain became operational and watched the complex transform and grow. Bunker, who was a member of security forces, manned the gate on that first day and was featured in a photo that became famous around the world.
Hickenlooper said being at CMAFS brought to mind the famed Cold War movie Dr. Strangelove.
“The reason (CMAFS) is featured in movies is because there is nothing like it,” said Hickenlooper. “It’s a true engineering marvel. I still can’t conceive of how they did this.”
He acknowledged the impact the military has upon the state’s economy, saying it plays a direct role in how the state functions. Cheyenne Mountain AFS in particular is a critical resource among the Colorado’s defense entities.
“Cold War threats may have been the driver for Cheyenne Mountain, but 50 years later it is still America’s Fortress,” Hickenlooper said. He released an official proclamation naming April 20 as Cheyenne Mountain Day throughout the state.
Gardner said CMAFS reminded him more of Matthew Broderick than Dr. Strangelove, referring to the 1983 film War Games, in which the facility played a major role.
“I never thought I would have the honor to stand here,” Gardner said, gesturing toward the north portal archway. He referenced letters his father wrote after the end of World War II causing him to think about the work done by men and women who served tirelessly at CMAFS protecting North America around the clock.
“From the people around the 50 states who’ve never got the chance to thank you, thank you,” said Gardner. He and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet co-authored a proclamation in the Senate, recognizing the strategic importance of CMAFS designating April 20 Cheyenne Mountain Day.
To punctuate the ceremony several military aircraft staged a flyover of the mountain facility including two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 140th Wing, Buckley Air Force Base; and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson. Combat vehicles from the 1st Stryker Brigade, 4th ID, Fort Carson were also in attendance to commemorate the event.
Click here to view the full Senate proclamation.