Peterson AFB’s surprising facts

During a recent conversation, Col. Chris Crawford described a common experience in his role as commander at Peterson Air Force Base, talking with civilians in Colorado Springs who know surprisingly little about what goes on at the installation that leases most of its real estate from our airport.

The colonel wasn’t being critical. He simply felt that, somewhere along the line, positive information and messages had not connected with many in the local business community. To put it another way, perhaps the Air Force hadn’t done enough to inform and educate influential people across the city.

For example, Crawford said local folks — not to mention many in the media — often were surprised to hear that the combined annual economic impact of Peterson and its neighbor, Schriever AFB, would approach $2.5 billion a year, about the same as the Army’s massive Fort Carson. Most people assumed Fort Carson dwarfed the local Air Force presence in that category.

Many city residents also believe that the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known for a half-century here as NORAD, has shut down its operations inside Cheyenne Mountain. They don’t realize Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station continues today as a robust command and control center, still helping monitor the planet with nearly 750 active-duty, civilian and mission-partner personnel.

Out of our discussion, Crawford promised to convene a “media roundtable” with representatives from local newspapers and TV stations, specifically to begin addressing that lack of awareness across the city. (Peterson hosted a similar gathering several years ago.)

The event took place last week, including a tour of the historic Cheyenne Mountain AFS. But first, Peterson leaders delivered an impressive presentation showing how extensive its operation truly is.

For example, did you know that Peterson AFB houses 48 active-duty generals or their civilian equivalents? It’s a concentration of brass second only in the Department of Defense to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., with its combined military focus on the Pentagon and being home to Air Force One.

And did you realize that one of Peterson’s many important programs is Space Object Identification? That means cataloging and monitoring more than 22,000 items (from satellites to junk) floating in orbit around the Earth, basically everything from the size of a baseball and larger, to help avoid collisions and other problems.

Or, taking a different tack: You probably haven’t heard that Peterson’s 21st Medical Group includes the third-largest pediatric treatment facility in the U.S. military, and the base’s medical branch serves more than 25,000 patients in the area, counting retirees. Also, its operation makes dental appliances for the military, mailing out more than $14 million in appliances every year.

We could go on and on (and we probably will, in future Business Journal stories), giving people across the Colorado Springs business community a better context for what’s happening at our military operations. That way, whenever we learn about more effective ways for the city to support the Air Force and Army, everyone starts with a higher knowledge and understanding level.

No matter what the city might do in future years to diversify the local economy, the military presence will continue to be vital. And it should be everyone’s business to know more about it. We’ll do what we can to help make that happen.