About 30 business, political and
media people from the Rome and Utica area went to Colorado Springs to tour
the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) facility inside
Cheyenne Mountain and the nearby Air Force Academy. The three day trip was
organized by the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based at Griffiss.
I kept a log during the trip. Excerpts:
9 A.M. - People I’ll be traveling with are arriving at NEADS headquarters. I
recognize several, including Jim Brown, Rome’s mayor; Ed Arcuri, who is
building a hotel at Griffiss; Nick Matt, president of the Matt Brewing
Company; Roger Sabia, Rome’s fire chief; Stephen Waters, publisher of the
10:30 - Col. Clark Speicher, commander of NEADS, is giving us a briefing.
NEADS, an Air National Guard unit that partners works with the regular Air
Force, uses its radar to defend 1 million square miles of airspace in the
northeast and cities including cities such as New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Col. Speicher says NEADS, which employs
more than 400 full and part time people at Griffiss, has an economic impact
on the local economy of $37 million.
1 p.m. - We are headed west on a C-130 cargo aircraft, tail number 0486,
being flown by a crew from the 109th Airlift Wing based in Scotia. This is
no airliner. The flight to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs will
take us five hours. My traveling companions are either reading or napping.
The high noise level makes normal conversation difficult.
4:30 p.m. - We are at Peterson AFB. Capt. Eric Wood was at the controls when
we landed. A smoother landing I have never experienced. We will be hosted at
dinner tonight by the Colorado Springs Military Affairs Group and the
Chamber of Commerce.
1 P.M. - We are in a bus on the way up a curving road to Cheyenne Mountain.
In the distance I can see Pike’s Peak. This morning we were given a briefing
by Paul Sullivan, a two star general, and other officers at NORAD’s
headquarters at Peterson AFB. One officer said, “We would like to fight
terrorism where they live instead of our homeland.” There’s an area inside
the headquarters building where the walls are lined with pictures and
newspaper front pages pertaining to September 11th. A sign states: “The
photographs on this wall show both the terror and the valor of September
11th and its aftermath.” We ate lunch at the base’s Aragon Dining Facility
with enlisted men and woman. I sat next to Randy Lund, a master sergeant.
Like everybody else I’ve come in contact with, he is professional,
personable and proud to be in the Air Force.
3 p.m. - We are deep inside Cheyenne Mountain. We had a group photo taken in
front of the tunnel that leads into the mountain. A sign above the tunnel
states: “Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.” Construction began in 1956,
at the height of the Cold War, and the mountain opened in 1966 as a defense
against Soviet bombers and missiles. As instructed, we left our cameras and
phones on the bus that brought us up the mountain. We went through two
security checkpoints and a metal detector before getting on another bus that
took us about a half mile into the mountain and dropped us off at the
massive blast doors. We are told that the blast doors have been closed only
once since the end of the Cold War. The doors were closed for four hours on
September 11th. Outside the blast doors are guards armed with pistols and
rifles. We have walked through a maze of tunnels and buildings constructed
inside the tunnels. Everything is clean. We don’t pass many people in the
halls. When you are in one of the buildings it’s like being inside any other
military complex except for the fact there are no windows and the buildings
are on huge springs designed to absorb a bomb blast. I could probably find
my way out of this nearly five acre complex s inside the mountain but it
would take I don’t know how long. We are told that no heating system is
needed inside Cheyenne Mountain because the temperature is moderate and
computers and other electrical equipment generate enough heat to keep the
things comfortable. Thirty days worth of food and supplies are kept
available. We get a briefing from an officer in a room called the Air
Warning Center. Men and woman sit in front of equipment in the center 24/7,
equipment from which they monitor what’s going on around the world. Cheyenne
Mountain, like NEADS at Griffiss, is a partnership of the U.S. and Canadian
1 p.m. - We are headed east and with a tail wind. Navigator Blair Herdrick
says we should land at Griffiss about 5:30. This morning we had a tour of
the sprawling Air Force Academy, consisting of 18,500 acres. The Academy is
at an elevation of 7,300 feet. We talked to two cadets, one who has learned
how to fly gliders and one who is on the parachute team. The Academy, we are
told has a $350 million annual budget. What with Peterson AFB, Cheyenne
Mountain and the Academy, no wonder Colorado Springs is booming.
6 p.m. - On the ground at Griffiss. The NEADS people thank us again for
going on the tour. In fact, everywhere we went during the past three days
Air Force people from enlisted to a two star general thanked us for being
interested enough to listen to them and learn more about the Air Force in
general and NORAD and NEADS in particular. And people on the tour made sure
to thank them.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and